Hot Key Books; October 4, 2018
417 pages (PB)
4.5 / 5 ✪
Contains possible spoilers for the previous 3 Spellslinger books.
The fourth book in the Spellslinger series, Soulbinder details the continuing adventures of spellslinger and outlaw Jan’Tep Kellen Argos as he traipses across the land performing his noble deeds. Or… mostly while he rips people off, still searching for a cure for his Shadowblack. But where no one had previously understood his ailment or how to cure it (short of attempting to kill him, that is) (which they’ve all done quite a lot of, really), Soulbinder may finally present Kellen’s lucky break. But—rather than a community of patients now cured of the horrible disease—he’s found a realm of people still infected with it. And they have graciously accepted him into their society, what by knocking him out and kidnapping him and all.
Reichis is nowhere to be found, however, prompting Kellen to assume the worst. As he left his cuddly little business partner dying in the middle of the desert, this isn’t really a big leap. But Kellen, being remarkably short on friends, is still willing to risk his life to save Reichis’s. Assuming that he can even find the squirrel-cat, that is. And, assuming that he can escape the Ebony Abbey first.
The Abbey is quite the abode. A shadowy dimension inaccessible from the outside. Filled with dozens of pupils, all infected with the Shadowblack. Any of whom might turn at the drop of a hat, giving in to the vile darkness that lurks in their minds, urging them to kill.
But Kellen is delayed in his quest to discover Reichis’s fate. First, by the monks knocking him out and tying him up when he tried to escape, but later by the fact that he can’t find anywhere to escape TO. And furthermore, Kellen has very little idea where Reichis even is. He’s in a desert… somewhere… in the world.
And the longer that Kellen is trapped in the Abbey, the more he comes to feel like part of a team. All his life, Kellen has felt alone. First, due to his lack of any magical talent. Next, being marked with the Shadowblack. Here in the Abbey are several dozen young outcasts who feel exactly as he has, all struggling with the same condition that will one day kill them… or worse turn them into monsters. While he needs to find Reichis, needs to continue his quest—Kellen finds himself unwilling to leave. For maybe, finally, he’s found his true home.
Soulbinder may be my favorite book in the series to date. Took me all of four days to read. As with every other book in the series, it’s easy to roll through fairly quickly. The language, the humor, the pacing, the predicaments all make the story move along. The short chapters give one multiple opportunities to stop and get on with one’s life, but also entice the reader into just one or two more, since they won’t take very much time. As usual, de Castell has woven a marvelous tale—with but a few exceptions.
My biggest problem with Soulbinder is that it feels episodic. I mean, Spellslinger is a six-part series, where Book 1 served as a coming-of-age tale, and #2 worked on establishing his outcast identity. Charmcaster sees Kellen really come into his own, complete with his split from Ferius Parfex—his mentor. Soulbinder, while truly interesting and exciting, does little to further the overarching plot. Yes, yes, there is a little bit here and there, but it really just feels like a separate adventure set in the same world. It’s not a tremendous issue, as there are two books to come, but in the same way: there’re only two books left! Assuming that Queenslayer sets the table and Crownbreaker ends the series—what good does Soulbinder serve? That being said, it was a thrilling adventure—one that I’ve just said was my favorite thus far. So, while it DID feel episodic, it’s not like that really bothered me.
Another issue is the lack of returning characters. Kellen is on his own this time. No Reichis. No Ferius. There are a few cameos later on, but initially at least, Kellen has to make do with keeping his own company. That, or make nice with his captor/rescuers. While it’s certainly nice to see how Kellen gets on on his own, and while his interactions with his fellow Shadowblackies are just as entertaining—I missed the dynamic Kellen has with his friends.
In every other way, Soulbinder is a must-read. I loved the new adventure set in a previously unknown locale, and the fellow Shadowblackians provide a glimpse into the deeper, darker corridors or Kellen’s affliction. More so, they offer Kellen with insight into his disease, and how the Shadowblack may even be used to his advantage. And of course, they underline its terrible price. And the Abbot’s knowledge—while far from being complete or scientific—provides us with some much needed lore about the Shadowblack and its sufferers.
Soulbinder is another amazing entry in the Spellslinger series, as Sebastien de Castell does his best to bankrupt us and steal away all of our sleep. A page-turning thriller from beginning to end, while it does comparatively little to advance the overarching plot, Soulbinder does provide a much needed glimpse into the world of the Shadowblack, easily doubling what we know about it thus far. Kellen is on his own this time—no Reichis, no Ferius, though a few familiar faces do crop up later on. And a few new associates do steal the spotlight from him now and then. It’s a quick and easy read; between the language, the story, and the pace, I finished it in 4 days. And I’m not the fastest reader. Highly recommended. Easily a must-read if you’ve made it this far into the Spellslinger series. And if you haven’t—why not?
Spellslinger continues with Queenslayer, the penultimate entry, and Crownbreaker, the series finale—both out in 2019. And can we just admire the cover art and illustrations by Sam Hadley? They’re incredible.