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    Magic as a double-edged sword

    This is a refreshingly novel fantasy story with a strong African influence. There is nary a dwarf or elf to be seen, but plenty of demons and witch doctors to add to the monarchy, high priests (and priestesses) and a pantheon of deities – the Orishas. Despite much that at first seems unfamiliar, there are still the universal themes of good and evil, love, family and belonging. The heroine, Arrah, dreams of being a witch doctor, like both her parents. She can see magic all around her, but is unable to manipulate it. Family is important to Arrah, and her feelings for her family (and theirs for Arrah) are tightly bound with her (and their) feelings about magic. To have no magic in a world and family full of magic, makes Arrah feel that she does not belong. While her father makes it clear that he will love her, whether she gains a talent for magic or not, her mother (Arti, High Priestess at the Almighty Temple) makes it even more clear, that Arrah is a failure, and has been a disappointment to her for most of Arrah’s short life. “They don’t know what it’s like to feel you don’t belong, to feel you’re not worthy. To not measure up to a mother who all the Kingdom admires”. Arrah so desperately wants her mother’s approval, that she puts her life at risk to try to get control of her magic. It soon becomes apparent, that poor mothering is not Arti’s only crime, but can Arrah – with no magic of her own – stop Arti and her demonic plans? There is a Romeo and Juliet style romance between Arrah and Rudjek (son of Arti’s greatest enemy), with Rudjek determined to keep Arrah safe, even when he does not understand all that is afflicting her. Arrah has a lot of maturing to do. She comes to realise that magic can be a curse as well as a blessing: “Now I understand why the holy scripts say that the orishas wanted to keep magic out of the hands of mortal kind. Magic isn’t good or bad. It’s people who make it dangerous” and that she is a person of great value, even without her mother’s style of magic: “Grandmother once told me that our greatest power lies not in our magic, but in our hearts. I thought she was trying to placate me, but no, she understood the importance of knowing one’s strength”. I found the book initially quite slow going, but by about quarter of the way through, I was hooked, and really enjoyed the ride as the pace and complexity greatly increased. The world building is excellent and the story very well written. However, I cannot give it five stars, as the ending did not work for me. I am not quite sure what I wanted – or why – but it was not the way the book closed. I would still recommend the book as a fascinating, unique and enjoyable fantasy novel. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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    A dark and complex fantasy.

    " Magic has a price if you're willing to pay." Each year Arrah dreams she will receive the magic she yearns for and each year she is denied. So she trades years of her life for small scraps of magic to help her find who is taking the Kingdoms children including her good friend Kofi. Kingdom of Souls is an in-depth, dark fantasy by Rena Barron. The plot is intense and complicated but it kept me intrigued enough to keep reading though I did feel that it dragged on at times. There are a complex cast of interesting characters (whose names were a little difficult to keep track of for me) with a host of female villains which made a pleasant change. I am not normally one for fantasy novels as I am not keen n the complex world-building and huge cast of characters as I find them too complex and overwhelming but this is still a good read and is beautifully written. If you enjoy a dark and complex fantasy then this book is definitely for you!
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