Review: WORLDSOUL by Liz Williams
In Short: Complicated and a little confusing, but colorful and absorbing; I’m very interested in seeing where Williams takes all this.
Stories don’t always reflect the world; they make it, too. A book is a world inside the world, and sometimes there are worlds within that. A galaxy in a speck of sand; suns in a waterdrop.
There is a lot going on in the great city of Worldsoul, which stands between Earth and the boundless Liminality. The book jacket describes it better than I can: Worldsoul is “a place where old stories gather, where forgotten legends come to fade and die—or to flourish and rise again. Until recently, Worldsoul has been governed by the Skein, but they have gone missing and no one knows why. The city is also being attacked with lethal flower-bombs from unknown enemy. Mercy Fane and her fellow Librarians are doing their best to maintain the Library, but… things… keep breaking out of ancient texts and legends and escaping into the city…”
This is only part of Worldsoul, the first volume in a steampunk-tastic new trilogy that evokes Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus stories by way of Philip Pullman and TNT’s Librarian movies, plus probably other influences that I just didn’t catch. It’s a whole lot of fun, but a little overwhelming, and when I was finished I found myself wondering exactly what I had just read. (With that said: What an ending. Consider my interest well and truly piqued.)
Mercy’s quest to stop the creatures from escaping their texts and get to the bottom of the whole flower-bomb business leads her to Shadow, a powerful alchemist, and the two become fast friends. Unfortunately, Shadow has problems of her own: she has incurred an unfortunate debt to an unctuous and sinister Shah, in repayment for which she is required to convert a demon known as an ifrit into human form. She’s quite successful, but not in the way she or the Shah had expected her to be. Together, Mercy and Shadow team up with Gremory, Duke of Hell (the hierarchy of Hell seems to be largely female, as both Gremory and the reigning Prince are women), and Gremory’s ex-boyfriend, an angel, and they have many wild adventures, some of which involve fighting and/or escaping from sadistic but attractive Jonathan Deed, the Abbot General of the Court. The Court, meanwhile, is struggling with the Library to fill the power vacuum left behind by the Skein.
It’s a lot to take in, and Williams doesn’t spoon-feed the reader at all – you kind of just need to figure things out as you go along. As a result, I spent much of the book confused about who was who and what was what. I have a feeling, though, that Book 2 (when it appears) will be much easier to follow.
And make no mistake: I will be looking for Book 2, downloading it enthusiastically, and reading it with interest. I liked this book. In particular, I really loved all the strong female characters: Mercy, Shadow, and Gremory are all resourceful and intelligent, and that’s to say nothing of mythical Mareritt, who rides among the dimensions in a sleigh full of talking severed heads. It’s also worth noting that Shadow is pretty obviously a Muslim, and I haven’t seen that many overtly powerful Muslim women in fiction, so I’m giving added points for novelty. Finally, mention must be made of Mercy’s friend, a ka called Perra, who takes the form of a cat and refers to herself in the third person whenever she does something clever or impressive, which is fairly often, e.g., “When you fell off the turret, this ka took the homunculus and extended it,” etc. Perra, in fact, is right up there with Pantalaimon from His Dark Materials on my list of Favorite Familiar Spirits. (Although I’m not sure that Perra is actually a familiar spirit. I’m not entirely sure what Perra is, to tell you the truth.)
Anyway, Worldsoul is a solid setup for what promises to be a highly entertaining trilogy. Just go in knowing that if you’re like me, you’ll need to read it twice to understand everything that’s going on.
HAVE A COMMENT? QUERY? COMPLAINT? A — DARE WE HOPE — COMPLIMENT?
CONTACT US NOW