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Feast of Souls review

Shades-of-grey fantasy that shows loads of promise

Author: Celia Friedman

Publisher: Orbit

451 pages • £12.99

ISBN: 978-1-84149-531-6

Rating:

High Fantasy gets a dose of the conspiracy thriller in the first of a new saga by Celia Friedman, author of the popular Coldfire trilogy.

At first glance, Feast of Souls is takes place in a not entirely unfamiliar medieval world of warring kingdoms where a men-only clique of magic workers (known as “Magisters”) counsel mortal kings, including an especially ambitious despot with his sights set on empire-building. But we’re soon let into the secret – the long-lived Magisters are actually parasites, drawing their spectacular power from unknowing victims, who sicken and die from the insidious bond. Feast of Souls follows one such victim, a prince who’s angrily determined to learn what’s killing him. Meanwhile, an equally angry young peasant woman who’s been through hell in her short life determines that no man will hurt her again…

It’s potent stuff, touching directly on the divisions of power shaped by class and gender, with firebrand protagonists refusing to be victims of their circumstances (though the heroine is far more vivid than the stricken prince). Friedman is an excellent writer, so that you feel involved in the plot’s urgency. That said, the frequent shifts from one storyline to another can have a contrary effect which can bog things down. Beyond the vampiric Magisters, there’s a non-human threat to the world which seems much too familiar... though it’s quite possible it’ll get overturned or subverted into something radically different before the trilogy’s done and dusted.

Certainly the downbeat denouement of the first book suggests that the surviving characters will all have to come to new terms with Friedman’s harsh world. On the evidence of just one volume, it’s hard to judge if this is just a very accomplished piece of genre fiction or something more – but it looks good enough from here.

Andrew Osmond

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