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Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book 2) Kindle Edition
|Length: 519 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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I'll be honest, this was not the sequel I was expecting. There's a large time gap between the two books that caught me off guard in the beginning. Furthermore, the story spends significant time with characters that simply aren't in Nethereal. But the two stories are connected, and in a very strong way. I give Mr. Niemeier strong props for weaving the tales together in the way that he does. I can say that it's not an easy task - but to say much more than that would be to spoil rather important parts of the story.
The world here continues to be something new, unique, and different, rather than just a new spin on the same old generic "space universe" that we see so often in space operas. This installment explores even more of that world, and brings us far more of its history. The new characters are a real joy, especially Xander and Astlin. Meanwhile, the returning characters are even more interesting in this incarnation. Most interesting is the way the finale of Nethereal has repercussions that underlie every page of this novel, from beginning to end.
To put it bluntly, this novel is the rare sequel that manages to surpass its predecessor. I give it 5 stars out of 5, and I highly encourage reading it. There's a reason Mr. Niemeier received his Campbell nomination, after all.
Souldancer is nothing like that.
Oh sure, it's set 20 years after, has a few of the same characters and references to others, and is still maddeningly (delightfully) vague about the socio-religious layout, but it's a smaller, much more personal story. Nethereal had the same concept: a man seeking to avenge his father and his people set against an all controlling edifice, but that kind of story almost has to be epic if it's not to be a failure. Souldancer is quieter: a love story, almost unconventional except in the persons of the lovers and the currents set in motion in Nethereal that drag them along in their wake. It is a much more accessible story, I think, despite how much I enjoyed its predecessor.
Two things I want to specifically mention: visualizations and exposition. Mr. Niemeier's visualizations are wonderfully fleshed out and vivid. I compare this series to Dune because both Herbert and Niemeier described worlds of technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, but so seemingly ancient that it was not just commonplace, but accepted and even a little dated. Herbert introduced artillery as his great secret weapon, commonplace to us but almost wholly unknown to the Dune universe, while he describes force shields, space flight, and everything else as utterly commonplace. Niemeier has that same mystique, but he does not fall into the trap that ensnared Herbert: he doesn't feel the need to explain what is commonplace to the reader.
Which brings me to exposition. Dune created a rich, ancient world almost completely by implication. Herbert subsequently spoiled it (in my opinion), by trying to make too much explicit in the subsequent books, losing the sense of mystery he had so carefully cultivated. Brian Niemeier avoids this trap by letting the commonplace remain commonplace unless a character would realistically discuss such a thing. By introducing characters who are out of their element, he can exposit as the story requires, which is an old trick but one that is too often abused by authors who are desperate to show off how cool their created universe really is. Mr. Niemeier chose to be more subtle, for which I thank him.
Finally, this book was awarded a Dragon for Horror. Full disclosure, I voted for it and think it deserved to win, but this is not the horror of Stephen King: there is no need to abuse, maim, and kill beloved characters just to jerk the reader's emotional chain. Which isn't to say that doesn't happen (and Brian, if you kill off Teg in Secret Kings, I will be VERY unhappy), but it always feels like it serves more of a purpose than mood-setting. No, the horror is like that of Iain Banks, without the late Mr. Banks need to be over the top.
So, if you are a fan of Herbert and Banks, I highly recommend this book. You don't have to start with Nethereal, but it certainly helps and I would recommend it regardless.
The writing style is comfortable and descriptive. Dialogue felt natural and smooth. At no point was I yanked out of the story or had my suspension of disbelief broken.
A heads up on this book: it gets WEIRD. The author doesn't see his story through the lens of tropes and favorite twists like most authors. This guy goes places that are deeply unsettling and unfamiliar, and he does so with confidence. Truth be told, he pulls it off every time.
This book is unlike any other. Even the first book doesn't prepare you for the weirdness of this one. What's even more strange is that a significant part of this is a love story; the most twisted, deranged, metaphysical love story you can imagine.
I finished it last night and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the ending. It's one of those thinking pieces. And it obviously sets up more to come. But it was satisfying. And I've got the third book sitting right here next to me.
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