Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book review: "Feast of Souls" by C. S. Friedman

I haven't read anything by C. S. Friedman before, but I had one or two of her series in my wish-list, since I encountered her name on several top-lists and reviews. I was choosing between "The Magister Trilogy" and "The Coldfire Trilogy", and finally picked the former, for no special reason, and bought "The Feast of Souls", the first part.

"The Feast of Souls" takes place in imaginary medieval world. Among regular people, there also exist witches and Magisters. Witches (both male and female) are able to do magic (witchery), but it costs them their life-force - the bigger the spell, the larger the price. Usually witches die in the middle years, except they are miserly with their power. On the other hand, Magisters, who are all males, have unlimited power, and they guard their secret hard. Magisters usually act as advisers to kings and rulers, but in truth they are the secret power behind thrones. In such world a young witch Kamala comes to a hermit-Magister Ethanus to teach her how to become the first female Magister... Several years later, Prince Andovan, one of sons of the most powerful King Danton Aurelius, become sick with the mysterious illness called Wasting. His search for the cause will set him on a course to Kamala, and both of them toward their destiny as ancient enemy of humanity begins to appear again - the soul-eaters!

As it is, such setting as in "The Feast of Souls" is a pretty much typical for fantasy. Medieval society, magic, Princes and Queens. I admit that the witches/Magisters thing is clever, but you are able to guess most of the details pretty soon and accurate. Even after first quarter of the book I was hoping for something to come and surprise me. I did get my satisfaction in second part of the book when Northlands and the Ancient Evil come into play. I must admit that the ikati come as nice villains and looking forward to learn more details. I also liked focus on Magister's society and rules in later stages, which are pretty detailed.

The plot is also typical, but it has its strong points. There are several players that are left unknown, so we have enough reveals to expect in second and third book. Again, the ikati storyline is the most interesting part of the plot. The big part of suspension is curiosity how Kamala and Andovan will be able to sort out their differences, because it is obvious from the start that they will be forced to do so. And we are not left disappointing - their (or better say, his) resolution is very surprising and interesting - and leaves her consistent.

There are lots of characters and again, lots of to discover in further books. Kamala doesn't really become a character until the second half of the book. Friedman writes her well, giving her much and important doubts to dwell upon. Andovan is pretty much common characters, but that doesn't mean he is boring. I especially liked Colivar's characters - and hope to learn more of his history. Queen Gwynofar is a very interesting character. Although this is not the rule, female writers usually create very good female characters (or at least more complex) and so is the case with Friedman.

Again, I liked the second half of "The Feast of Souls" more that the first. I really have to admit the book had a good ending - surprising and clever. And opening space for the next book.

Of Friedman's writing I can't say much. She has interesting characters, and gives some exciting chapters, but doesn't insert many original and unique fantasy elements.

All in all, "The Feast of Souls" is a solid fantasy book - not the best I have read, but far from worst. I have enough interesting parts to justify continuing with the trilogy. I think readers who focus on characters more than on plot or setting will be more than satisfied with this book. Also the fans of Robin Hobb.

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