Tuesday, 21 December 2010

‘Soul Stealers’ – Andy Remic (Angry Robot)

I read ‘Kell’s Legend’ way back in September last year and came away feeling a little... well, I don’t know really. Remic’s bid to seize the throne sadly vacated by one David Gemmell was a book crammed full of a lot of things all driven by an undeniable power and energy; a book that slammed its foot on the accelerator and left you scrabbling to hang on in its wake. The stakes were high and we got a hero who could deal with it all accordingly; that for me though was where the book fell down in my eyes... It was all just a little too full on for me, to the point where it felt more like a Saturday morning cartoon than the story it wanted to be. And don’t get me started on the homage to Druss that felt like far more than a simple homage...
So why am I back for the second instalment then? It’s been a long old time since I last read ‘Kell’s Legend’ and I couldn’t really remember how it all went down. What I could remember though is the mother of all cliff hangers and I really wanted to see what happened next. I was also after something fun (it’s the end of the year and I’m tired...) and that was the impression I came away with after reading ‘Kell’s Legend’ so... :o)
If you read and enjoyed ‘Kell’s Legend’ then you’ll be pleased to know that ‘Soul Stealers’ offers more of the same. I’m still undecided on the whole thing though, one way or the other...

The whole world is going to hell but as far as Kell is concerned, that can all wait until he has rescued his granddaughter from kidnappers seeking to manipulate him for their own ends. The war just won’t wait though as the Army of Iron steps up its invasion from the North; harvesting human blood for the purposes of the clockwork vampire Vachine Empire. What are those purposes though? It seems that factions within the Empire, and its army, have their own plans for this monstrous harvest; plans that will drag Kell back into the game once his own quest is over. Kell is having a bad day and it’s about to get a lot worse before the day ends...

‘Soul Stealers’ was an entertaining and fun packed read but, by the time I’d finished reading, I couldn’t help but wonder ‘was that it?’ In the same way that a MacDonald’s meal will still leave me hungry (and wishing I’d forked out the extra for a nice juicy steak), ‘Soulstealers’ left me feeling empty and wishing that I’d picked up something a little more substantial.

The funny thing though is that the approach taken by Remic initially offers the book a lot to recommend it. ‘Soul Stealers’ is a ‘hack and slash bonanza’ where endless enemies line up to present themselves to Kell’s axe so he can kill them and make his way towards his objective. The ensuing scenes come across as predictable (it’s the second book in a series; you just know that Kell is going to be around for a while yet...) but you will be sticking around for the raw power in the writing. When Remic has Kell hit someone with his axe you’re left in no doubt that they’ve been hit! When you factor in the urgency of what’s going on you’re left with a story that rockets along. Except for the little intermissions between fights that is... The bickering between Kell and Saark felt, to me, like it dragged out just that little bit too far and I was left wondering if said bickering was ever going to come to anything. They both had their say and then just started saying the same things all over again... That really didn’t do anything for me.

What was interesting though is the direction that Remic seems to be taking Kell in. I’ve said before that I’m not quite comfortable with how similar Kell is to Druss the Legend and I’ll still stand by that. There’s no ‘almost’ about it, I would always rather read about an original character than one based on another character. Kell though... he proved to be a rare exception on this occasion.
While Remic still very much riffs off Druss here, this time we get to see how Druss might have turned out if he had allowed himself to go off the rails and go beserk. Instead of a good man fighting that tiny bit of bad, Kell is a self confessed bad person trying very hard to nurture that tiny flame of good inside him. Fantasy literature is full of bad people trying to do the right thing but it is rarely done on such a personal level as it is with Kell. Kell’s ferocious honesty really lays him bare in a way that you wouldn’t normally get to witness and Remic’s constant use of coarse language (maybe a little overdone, less sometimes really is more) leaves you in no doubt as to what Kell really thinks of himself. I will be back for the next book, just to see where Kell’s character goes next.

What ultimately let the book down for me though was the very ‘hack and slash bonanza’ that kept things moving to begin with. Midway through the book, it really did feel that the enemy were lining up to provide a spectacle for the reader (in terms of fights with Kell) rather than have the story move anywhere really interesting. This kind of affair would look great on the big screen but on the page it needs to be going somewhere else other than the next person to fight. The pacing fell into a rut (fight bad guy, kill bad guy, walk for a bit, fight bad guy... and repeat) and the villains of the piece lost any of semblance of evil; becoming cardboard cut-outs to be knocked down by Kell. The way that the plot dragged, because of this, turned a days read into a book that lasted longer and not for good reasons.

You know what though? Another massive cliff hanger means that I will be back for the third instalment, even though I know I’m going to encounter the same issues that I had this time round. ‘Soul Stealers’ is an entertaining read but perhaps a little too lightweight in plot to really make the impression that its language suggests that it wants to.

Seven out of Ten

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