Not everyone gets a soul. The rise of industry and mechanization has sent the world's population booming upward, striving relentlessly for the fixed handful of souls that level armies and steer the fate of nations. The remnants of a crumbled empire fight in a grinding, bloody war against their ancient enemy.
Not everyone gets a soul, but Michael must - for he is the scion of a lord, and the soulless cannot hold such a title. For five years he has tried to tempt one of the souls freed by its vessel's death. Five years of pain and failure, earning only his father's contempt. At last, one more opportunity to earn his soul has come.
But not everyone gets a soul quite like his.
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Cover art by Harry Rowland.
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I'm not here to mess around, so I'll just get right into it. At this point the story is already 20K words in.
While the other aspects of the story so far are very good, the characterization is where it really shines. The main character and his relationships with others is some of the best early book characterization I've read in a long time, and probably in my top 3 for characterization on RR. The side characters are treated with equal care, as they all feel real... real problems, real personalities, real flaws. Anyone that knows me around here knows characterization is what makes or breaks a story for me and I have no problem recommending this story based purely on this alone.
The story is written in a very descriptive narrative style. It borders on the edge of too much, but rides that sweet spot and ends up being just enough, with a dash of flavor and spice that keeps it from turning dull. It also lends itself well to the style of worldbuilding which reminds me of a mix between the early 2000s epic fantasy style and early century classics.
It's still early, but the meat of the first arc has already gone through an awesome setup, such that I'm confident that I'll be continuing the story for the forseable future. We've already got politics and intrigue, a mystery, an antagonist, and a solid plot thread that I can't wait to get into. The magic system is unique. I don't think I've come across something exactly like it before and it promises to be very interesting. The setting is pretty cool too, a world caught somewhere post Victorian era where the very first "driverless coaches" are starting to pop up, but still maintaining that feel where people believed in magic, but in this world the magic actually works.
Just go and read it.
Very good, not like anything that I have read before when it comes to its mechanics but like all good stories when it comes to characters, pacing and storytelling. But I cannot think of much else to say because I'm not so great with putting down my words personally, hope this was 50 words.
MC is not evil. Qualifying that statement would require defining what evil is, which is a deeply philosophical rabbithole that I can't get into without spoilers. The author's prior works delved a "little" into the nature of good and evil, power and responsibility, but this latest story cranks that up to 11.
I don't normally recommend judging a book by it's cover, but in this case the artwork is spot on. The multiple arms holding tools hint at the notoriously philophical surreal metaphysics typical of eastern myth, while the plain young man in medieval garb hints at a coming-of-age western adventure fantasy.
If you were expecting a normal story, you came to the wrong author.
If you're the type of person who reads ancient greek philosophy or old myths for fun, you'll think this is a masterpiece. If you're the type who prefers action to introspection, this story is incredibly boring. That's why all the reviews are either very positive or very negative.
I can't justify a more in depth review until the story is finished, but I am extremely impressed by the prose, pacing, and artful storytelling thus far. If I had to point out a fault, it set's the bar on itself too high, so anytime it's short of amazing it feels off.
My only consistent criticism thus far is awkward/truncated/ommitted scene transitions and a lack of spatial awareness. The author has improved dramatically on this front, and seems to succeed 50-75% of the time, but this remains his most noticeable weakness. Given that most authors NEVER get this right, I consider this excellent progress.
An excellent editor would help, but that would slow down the writing process. I would consider finding a good editor after the book is finished. A normal editor wouldn't work - most only look for obvious grammer issues (of which I've found none.)
This story is of a much higher quality than most web novels that you can find. Character depth is amazing, world building is incredible, story so far has been excellent, but all of that comes with a cost. This level of quality takes time. One chapter per week and the plot progression can be a bit slower at times. Now, once this book is completed it won’t matter at all, but until then it should be kept in mind. And you will want to keep pressing that Next Chapter button because this book will keep you at the edge of your seat.
I don’t know how long the book is going to be but right now at 340 pages it feels to me like it’s just beginning.
The basic premise of this story is that souls exist in this world and people can absorb those souls. Souls grant a variety of superpowers. Michael, the protagonist, after years of trying to get a soul finally succeeds, but the soul that he gets is peculiar. No one knows what the soul does and that attracts the attention of a mind controlling, mad scientist that wants to take him as a lab rat. So, Michael has to survive and learn what the effects of his soul are. The story is a lot deeper and more complex but in order not to spoil anything I won’t be going further about specific events that transpire.
Michael is a tortured character, both mentally and physically. His father is constantly disappointed in him that he keeps failing to get a soul, but he himself doesn’t have almost any control over his soul that grants him the power to cut things. So, throughout his life, Michael has suffered numerous cuts for the smallest reasons. The suffering unfortunately doesn’t end once he gets the soul, it only changes the form.
Even though I can see objectively that this story is excellent, I’m not sure that subjectively I like it. I think that one of the main points in this story is Michael’s suffering and his struggle to power through it and eventually overcome it. Every time he stumbles on some small piece of fortune, even greater misfortune follows. Just like with his soul and attention from that scientist. I found myself in constant terror and trepidation, waiting to see how he will suffer next. Every time Michael manages to accomplish something, he is instantly brought back by something terrible. Eventually, he learns how to use his soul and that in theory gives him the option to try and escape his terrible destiny, but in practice I’m not sure if it really changes anything, only time will tell. It doesn’t feel like Michael has any control over his life. It feels like both me and Michael are on a rollercoaster of pain, and we are here just for the ride with no end in stop. It slows down from time to time, giving us courage to continue and hopefulness that it will end, only for it to speed back up again. I’m worried because I can see a faint light of hope at the end of the tunnel but I already expect the inevitable hardships that he will have to go through.
Something that you should keep in mind is that this isn’t really a bad part of the story or that it is written badly. All of it makes sense. No character ever really breaks their characters to push the story forwards. There are no plot holes. His suffering has a purpose and isn’t done for laughs. It’s just that I don’t fully enjoy reading stories like that.
Am I going to keep reading it? Unfortunately, yes. It does the one thing that not many other stories manage to do, makes me feel something. Even though it makes me feel bad things, I still care for Michael. I want to see him be happy. And mostly, I want to see if he will finally manage to grab the reins and do the things that he wants to do, not what he is forced to do, without suffering.
Should you read it? Absolutely yes. It takes a bit of time to get going, but once it’s there, you won’t be able to resist clicking that Next Chapter button.
Its been an immersive read till now. Magic system seems unique. MC doesn't become OP freak in the third chapter.
He starts out pretty damn weak - inside and out and I don't mind it one bit. This gives scope for excellent character development later on.
From what I have seen so far, this story isn't about cringey and absurd power ups but is a journey of introspection, adventure, struggle and self discovery and I for one, am definitely rooting for the MC.
Astounding Stories... Unknown... the pulp-fiction of Interwar Period of the twentieth-century. Two-bits and a trip to the news stand bought you a ticket to brave new worlds, filled with rocketships, robots, and enigmatic aliens - a hundred pages of action-packed adventure at your fingertips, and a nickle in change for an ice-cold Coca-Cola. For a kid growing up in the Great Depression, life didn't get much better than that.
Nearly a century later, the vast majority of those stories lie forgotten - science fiction, after all, is a niche genre, and not one in a thousand of those stories has stood the test of time. The ones that have are something special - they either broke the mold, like Sprague de Campe's Lest Darkness Fall (which pioneered the sub-genre of Alternate History), or they forced you think, like Azimov's Runaroud (which first exposed a then-12-year-old me to the concept of limit cycles).
I'm not overly fond of spoilers, so I won't leave any here. What I will say is this:
just as the world of Peculiar Soul so artfully hearkens back to era of Astounding Stories, so too does the story itself hearken back to the best of the stories of that era - it not only breaks the mold, but in the process, it forces you to think. And while not one in ten-housand of the stories on this site will stand the test of time... I'm betting this one just might.
Good start to the story so far, love the way the author introduces everything about the world one step at a time instead of just writing blocks of paragraphs about the world and its rules.
Honestly from the way its written so far it seems to have potential. Hopefully it keeps up.
This story has the coolest worldbuilding of any story on Royal Road, hands down. The author creates fictional news stories, Propoganda posters, and missives to war councils. These snippets of lore are made more interesting due to the fact that the world has magic through the use of 'souls', and that it changes the how and why wars are fought. All of this serves to provide a wide lens view to the events the main protagonist is embroiled in that we would never be able to see due to his narrow involvement.
Not that the protagonist's story is any less interesting. His involvement provides a very close look at particular events in the war that could shape it's outcome, though in an incidental way, as the protagonist himself is just trying to survive.
My description does not do the main storyline justice though, so read other reviews or, better yet, read the story!
(reviewed as of chapter 6, updated as of chapter 7)
update: slight improvement of score due to some clarification in chapter 7; review slightly shortened for better readability
exact score: 4.375 - good with strong tendencies toward excellence, recommended
Short summary: Technical perfection, great flavor and brilliant wordbuilding make this novel worth a read despite a MC that starts of great but turns soft and stupid in chapter 4/5/6 - I will continue reading and hope it gets better.
I will start this review in an unorthodox order, as the very end necessitates elaborations that contain spoilers and are marked as such.
This novel absolutely shines in its technical excution:
The grammar is fllawless as far as I can tell (but I am no native speaker, sorry if I missed something). It's not just simple grammar either, but you dont notice the less common constructs as the sentences just flow right.
The style is a very descriptive third person limited, the author shows instead of telling, which is always great. The in world quotes and very real looking news articles between chapters do not only increase immersion and lend some great flavor, they even manage to subly foreshadow events in the chapter - and show things the narrator would otherwise be forced show in a way less natural way or outright tell. "Outsourcing" parts of worldbuilding from the main narrative flow replaces the dreaded in-chapter-infodump with additional tasty morsels between chapters that perfectly fit the aim of worldbuilding, as newspapers and annals are naturally intended to inform the uninformed. This is by no means a new idea, the practical guide did it for years, but I have never seen it executed so well before.
Choice of words is varied and fitting.
The author seems to be very active in the comments, which I do consider a plus, even if not part of the rating (otherwise add 0.25 to the score). A bit of interaction with the author usually improves the reading experience and collecting feedback from readers is what royalroad is for.
But what of the contents (worldbuilding and story, the latter of which I consider hard to distinguish from characters and their interactions, as I follow the "japanese" school of thought that considers the main core of the story the inner, not the outer conflict)?
Worldbuilding is brilliant, the concept of souls and all they imply lends a new and pleasently sinister twist to an otherwise very familiar feeling early industrial "British" society with all the social tensions and hope for improvement through technology that entails.
Characterisations and interactions are generally well executed, except for the so far central one: The interaction of the MC with his father. My issue with it derives from how the character acts against his established skill and motivation.
Possible mild Spoilers up to chapter 5 ahead: I do not consider them "real" spoilers as they are still from what I consider the exposition, but I can unfortunately not make my point without at least generally pointing out what element of the story I take issue with which includes the major plot point from the first five chapters.
Long story short for those with a strong dislike for spoilers: Stupid, ungrateful characters are great as a starting point (see RE: Monarch) or if they make sense from their background and characterization, not as a character development from an initially rational and competent MC.
The early chapters establish the MC as the talented inheritor to a very demanding low noble father. The MC - so it is outright stated - had never disappointed his father before failing to attract a soul, the utterly unusual number of costly attempts he took to do so threatening to ruin the family both financially and in reputation. When he finally manages to attract a soul after a risk move on his father's part he refuses the first, normal soul and demands a powerful one or death, barely surving. After his fathers offers to even take loans he can not afford to finance his treatment, an other political figure (lets call her S) saves him the expense wants to recruit the MC. There is not even a carrot to her offer, only the stick of one of her less pleasant peers, a scientist, probably wanting to experiment on him as he is unusual. So far so good, but now the illogical part: This simple offer - one his father explicitly warned him about as S is a brilliant manipulator - and some memory magic on her part that "shows" him how evil this scientist is and how little his father cared about him suddenly lead him to embrace a plot that as a best outcome has him running from the law all his life for framing the scientist. Why? Just missing for a few days (visit ill relatives, run away with a "girlfriend", any bs excuse really that is no criminal offence) would have the scientist back to his island after having burned all his favors as he is stated to be on a timer.
The part with his father is even more ridiculous: Remarriage with widows with children or younger woman (to ensure offspring), adoption, etc. were common in early industiral Great Britain, yet his father elects to invest unfathomable resources in him instead of finding a replacement. A from modern view distant and "cold" relationship to (especially noble) parents was the normal state of affair during this period of history - in germany my great grandparents had to use the fomal form of adress you today only use in business or with strangers for their own parents and in public even for their older siblings. But suddenly our MC is not a reasonable early industial pseudo-British noble with the education that entails, who had two days prior basically gambled his life to not waste the painful work so far, but - excuse my French - an ungrateful brat who willingly risks his fathers death and assured ruin on the words of S who "benevolently" fucked with his memories hours after the first meeting and is - I repeat - established as a proficient manipulator.
I especially dislike such logical inconsistencies/dumbing down of MC in storys that seem aspire to be complex - slapstick or gamelit follow their own, more forgiving templates. In my impression sacrificing logic/nuance/moral ambiguity of characters for plot convenience or progress is the second most common mistake (after lack of plot progress/no recognizable end) for works that start of very strong.
I will continue reading a few chapters as every other aspect of the novel is of very high quality, and I hope that the lack of logic was just a singular event (or maybe can be explained because of the mind magic?) and will update the review as appropriate.