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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We get enough information about the main story to become interested but not enough to feel like we know where it's gonna go. The author had been walking that thin line splendidly.
The characters are some of the best I've seen in a written work and we're just 9 chapters into it.
The language has been spot on. Nothing has made me make a second take because of a weird choice in vocabulary or fault in grammar.
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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.
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.
(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.
Overview - an exceptionally high-quality piece of writing with an outstanding hook of engagement into their world, subtle details around an intriguing core concept with top-tier character work.
STRONGLY RECOMMEND (maybe after it's built up a bit more backlog)
Grammar 5/5 - Flawless, or near as makes no odds. No issues with pacing, flow, punctuation, grammar. Everything is of top quality, oozing professionalism. An absolute pleasure to read.
Style 5/5, Character 5/5 - Story is told slowly and carefully with exquisite worldbuilding. The little newspaper clippings and posters and things at the end of each chapter really sell the world. The characters are flawed, motivated, and carry significant emotional weight. I want to throat-punch the father, the MC's interactions with one of 'The Eight' so far have left me feeling dirty and disgusted at the state of their world.
The characters are not all likable. This is not - so far - a fluffy, happy, everyone-wins kinda story. People are being absolute bastards and I hate them and it's so well done. Extremely believable and immersive.
A truly outstanding first-chapter hook into the world. Nothing else to say here, just read it.
Story 5/5 - An interesting core premise, a believable world. There's not yet enough here to call the story overall perfect, but what is here is:
- Immersive and very believable
I'm exceptionally interested in this world and can't wait to see more, a stunning example of a quality I'm not used to seeing.
As always TMarkos created a unique and interesting world for our characters to adventure in. So far most of the story is yet to be revealed but the initial father-son conflict is very interesting and promising. If this book will be as other TMarkos books, it will be a work of highest quality.
Great start so far
the characters are really good, with engaging motivations and meaningful thoughts.
the story hasn't really kicked off yet, it's mostly just past the inciting incident. Excited to see what kind of ability/ies our MC has. So far, I have no real Idea where the plot is gonna go, with no defined overarching goals. But the world is getting fleshed out, and there's plenty of conflict in the world for our MC to be tossed into, so excited to see where it goes.
This book is an absolute masterpiece, simply based on its premise - souls are precious and a resource that everybody wants and is fighting over.
The world has reached the first stages of industrialization and the fires are churning within factories as armies march across landscapes for global dominion, you know your basic 19th century steampunk shabang, but all of that is held up by an extremely wunderwaffe original premise - the power of souls and what it can do for you. It's located in a sweet spot where magic and industrialization are competing and mixing up. It's always fun to ask - who will win - the power of steam or magic?
Note: The insert dividers between chapters are amazing too and make the book shine like a little star.
Everything about this book is simply superb and even if there's only 6 chapters up as of this review, I see this lovely getting lots of readers once it trends harder.
Spelling - fantastic, no mistakes to be seen.
Character- Absolutely fantastic. All of the characters feel like real people living in a real world with solid flaws and backstory knives all pointed at each other. The main character's interaction with his father is delicious in terms of narrative setup.
Style - Vivid, wonderful, deep worldbuilding. With only a few chapters up, TMarkos managed to throw me into an entirely different world of Victorian-style British Empire intrigue. This book gives me that much needed feeling of a magical Sherlock Holmes atmosphere of foggy gloom, mystery and fun. Everyone is quite the bastard to each other and yet it works.
Immersion [that's right I just made up a category]- ten outta ten, would immerse myself again. [ Absolutely barbaric . meme but with a Victorian gentleman at the wheel ] Love it!
Overall - I strongly recommend you check this book out and put it on your reading list! Do it now or I'll come to your house with my flintlock pistol. Don't think I won't. A gentleman doesn't dally with his promises!
There seems to be a positive trend towards more stories without blue rectangles on the last month, and this story seems to be a prime example.
The world building is interesting, the characters interesting and the prosa flow's along pleasant.
At this point there is not to much material posted, but what is available is in the top 1% in my opinion.