★★★★☆ | A family can be three and a half of queer girls and one soft boy
This book is July’s Sapphic Book Club read hosted by @sapphicliterature.
Title: The Soulstealers
Author: Jacqueline Rohrbach
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: April 1st 2019
Genres: Fantasy / YA / LGBT
- bi black MC
- aro/ace rep
- f/f relationship
- enemies to lovers
- unlikely allies
- complex female villain
- alternate take on the Chosen One trope
Arnaka Skytree grew up to believe she is the Chosen Soulkeeper to bring the new magic to the floating palace. One day though she learns there is a price to pay for this magic and she is not the one who’s supposed to pay it. The Soulkeeper’s magic boost comes from the souls of peasant women and Arnaka is just about to harvest the soul of her best friend. Arnaka then makes a promise to fix the brutal system and, along with some like-minded people she met along the way, she sets out to fight for what is right.
➽ THE FLOATING PALACE, DRUID MAGIC AND THE DARKNESS UNDERNEATH
Arnaka grows up in an impressive floating palace — a great achievement of the Soulkeepers from the past — with a beautiful garden sustained by magic, colourful dresses and lavish lifestyle of aristocracy. Beyond that; however, she finds a garden that is lifeless, harsh misogyny of fellow titled men and their jealousy of her magic and, finally, the darkness of the eclipse.
The worldbuilding of The Soulstealers is rich, fascinating and full of magic.
Arnaka — Arnaka is a born rebel. She will try everything that is forbidden and after caught she will try it again and again. She will insult anyone to prove the point but she’s also sensitive and an idealist. She is ready to fight for what she believes in even though she’s sure she will die trying.
Mother — Grieta Skytree is a complex woman. She experienced a lot of pain and betrayal in her life but she also inflicted it and more so to the innocent people than to who harmed her. She’s a master manipulator and the most powerful druid, and thus woman, in the floating palace. She wants revenge but she also readily sacrifices what is not hers to take.
Other important characters include Arnaka’s brother who is an example of a man who thinks himself entitled, Arnaka’s childhood friend — a nameless soul to be harvested, Arnaka’s maid — a reserved girl forced to live in servitude, and two members of the resistance — a cheerful and loyal boy and a stubborn but soft girl.
➽ GREAT FRIENDSHIPS, HEARTBREAKING FAMILY DYNAMICS AND A RUSHED ROMANCE
The book has many amazing friendships between various characters and it’s obvious that writing friendships is something that comes easily and naturally to the author. There’s banter, teasing and fun but also quarrels and tears. It’s interesting to read about all those different interactions.
Arnaka’s complex family dynamics are also well explored. The brother she hates and who hates her and brings her pain on every ocassion but she also remembers their easier interactions from the past. The mother who manipulates her and expects her to play out her plans but who also brought magic into her life and whom she wants to impress no matter how much she disapproves of her actions. Even the teacher she treats as her safe space plays an important role in breaking her heart.
The romance; however, felt rushed. It was more a fantasy about a bunch of queer characters with side f/f relationship than an f/f fantasy and I did enjoy that but the ‘I love you’s after only a few weeks felt… too fast.
➽ MISOGYNY, CLASSISM, AND TAKING AWAY ONE’S AUTONOMY
The Soulstealers is a tale about the brutal world of men’s entitlement and violence that forced women to turn against each other to seek the little power they could gain. The magic is the only thing that gives women any privilege and even that doesn’t provide them anything beyond being equal to the lowest of men. Magic is power and druids of the floating palace take souls of the peasant women to gain more of it.
This complex relation of being abused but also an abuser really fleshes out the conflict of the novel and makes the fight against the system more layered.
➽ WHY NOT 5 STARS??
Amazing worldbuilding, loveable characters, and interesting plot but somehow there weren’t enough feelings and intensity for me. It was great but also didn’t really go for my heart.