In the Lord’s year 1303, a holy order of knights faces the brink of extinction. Their holy crusade falters as a fiendish monster from beyond the mist decimates their numbers. In desperation, the Knights Templar dispatch a unit to find an ancient relic hoping to tip the scales in the battle against the forces of darkness. Sir Marcus Le’heroux bravely leads the knights into the Hungarian wilderness, but when the weapon he finds buried in the Mátra Mountains turns out to be an awakened Soulstealer, he faces much more than he bargained for. Will the Order’s new weapon prove to be more monster than man?
Soulstealer Origins is a fantasy alternative history involving the fall of the Knights Templar in the 1300s. It is dark story with plenty of gruesome content but also a heartfelt between a man and a monster, and the exploration of what really constitutes a monster.
Before getting into the review, the Soulstealer Trilogy is a sort of prequel series to the author’s debut urban fantasy series the Baku Trilogy. The main character of Soulstealer, Oxivius, is a character in the Baku Trilogy as well. I have not read the original trilogy but I don’t feel that took away from my enjoyment of Oxivius as a character, so you shouldn’t feel like you need to read the Baku Trilogy first.
What first drew my interest in this book was when I heard that the main character was a cannibal necromancer. I have always enjoyed books with good takes on necromancy and this one did not disappoint. Though you should know that this is a major part of the character arc for our MC so if you are squeamish this may not be the book for you. That being said, I loved the character of Oxivius, he is definitely the highlight of the book for me along with the friendship that he makes which I will go into later. In the prologue for the book we discover that Oxivius is a soulstealer, meaning that his only real food source is humans. And when he eats, he traps the soul of that person inside him. Which is obviously bad for the person he eats, but Oxivius is also stuck with their screams forever. So he has to eat people to live, but he is tormented by their souls for doing so. Not only is he a soulstealer, he is also one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, specifically Death. During the prologue he is attacked and has his horseman’s weapon stolen from him, and is magically trapped inside a mountain.
Hundreds of years later, a group of Knights Templar come to this mountain seeking a weapon to help them fight their enemies. But it turns out that Oxivius himself was the weapon they were searching for. They manage to free him with their celestial magic in exchange for his aid. From this stems an unlikely friendship between Oxivius and one of the Templars, Marcus. At first Marcus believes Oxivius is a monster, him being a cannibal and all. But he comes to learn that there is more to Oxivius that he first thought. Marcus’ friendship and growing faith in him helps Oxivius to learn to believe in himself and aids him in his struggle with his own humanity. And Marcus learns that outward appearances don’t mark the difference between monsters and men, but what is on the inside.
This friendship is what really makes the book for me, it was so heartfelt and touching to see their friendship grow and the changes it made to both of their lives. It is easy to make the cannibal necromancer an evil monster but that’s not what the author does. The world is not black and white, and neither are the Templars wholly good nor Oxivius wholly evil. Rather there exists shades of both in everyone.
The world this book takes place in is also fascinating. I typically enjoy fantasy books in secondary worlds much more than ones on earth but this one is an exception. The author basically said, what if all the mythologies and religions of the world were true? And then threw them all together. So we see mythical creatures and gods of all kinds here, and I really liked how it all came together. Oxivius doesn’t start out as a necromancer, but he gets the power part of the way through the book in an interesting way, and the use and ramifications of necromancy were done in a very interesting way. The unique combination of necromancy and being a soulstealer makes Oxivius particularly powerful, even without his horseman’s weapon. Though I would love to see Oxivius reclaim that at some point. The ending of this book is both epic and emotionally heart wrenching.
My biggest criticism of this book was the above average amount of typos. I am forgiving with typos in books because they all have them but there were just a few too many in this one that it became somewhat distracting. The novel is fast paced, we often jump from one plot point and location to another which can sometimes make it feel a bit disjointed but I didn’t find it detracted from the experience for me. It felt more like a stylistic choice than a pacing issue, though it may not be a style that works for everyone. Having said that I still enjoyed the experience reading this book and look forward to reading the rest of Oxivius’ story. I recommend this to readers who enjoy dark fantasy with heart and the exploration of what it means to be human.