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Soul Render by T. L. Branson

Soul Render by T. L. Branson
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Book Name: Soul Render
Author: T. L. Branson
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Epic Fantasy
Release Date: April 18, 2018

“Stormbringer in a stone.”

Middle school marked the rebirth of my interest in fantasy, and after reading heroic fantasy stories like Dragonlance and Dragonriders of Pern, I was taken aback by Elric of Melnibone. The ability of Stormbringer to suck souls utterly horrified me: raised in a Southern Baptist household, the idea that the essence of someone would be gone forever, even if they’d been upstanding moral individuals in life, just seemed unfair (I also felt the same way about the Undead in Dungeons and Dragons). Now a soulless cynic, I thought I had gotten over that—until I read T. L. Branson’s debut YA epic fantasy, Soul Render.

What I loved most about it was the worldbuilding. To me, the best fantasy settings feel real and lived in, and the author does a wonderful job of painting a living, breathing world without burdening the narrative with, “As you know, Bob,” info-dumps. The basic premise of the story is that the essences of the gods have been condensed into Soul Stones. Each stone grants its bearer supernatural abilities.

For King Drygo of Aralith, it is the Soul Siphon, which allows him to transfer spiritual energy between people and objects. He uses it to either take energy from people or transform them into beasts that are forced to do his bidding.

Clearly, he is not a nice guy, leading to conspiracies against him. When the main character, Will, invades the castle to depose the king, he uncovers another Soul Stone: the Soul Render, whose power the king has been trying to unlock. While it won’t help the king, it links to Will telepathically, teaching him how to rip souls apart in his attempt to escape the castle. Without giving too much away, much of the story revolves around Will evading authorities, while learning how his Soul Stone can eject souls from their bodies, and allow him to swap or steal bodies.

Throughout the quick-paced story, he meets a cast of colorful secondary characters. Each has their own agenda, and none more enigmatic than Red. She is worth keeping an eye out for as the narrative progresses.

If I have any complaint about the story, it goes back to my horror at the snuffing out of souls: the one area I wished I could have seen more of was Will dwelling on the implications of what he has done whenever he destroys someone’s soul. As is, he seems a little dismissive of the act, when he is an otherwise heroic figure who usually does the right thing.

The writing flows smoothly, and the vocabulary is appropriate for young adult audiences. The mysteries of the Soul Stones feel like an onion, with one layer growing on the other. The action and fight choreography are vivid and engaging. A few cool twists toward the end are surprising but foreshadowed enough not to leave you scratching your head.

With these factors in mind, I rate Soul Render an 8.25 out of 10.

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