Boy, if it takes this much to get ready for Grad School, I can only imagine how much time of mine it’ll devour once I’m actually in it… Yeah, that’s where I’ve been for the last month or so. Graduate school. It already haunts me like a phantom.
Speaking of haunting, which is vaguely related to spirits, I’m here to copy+paste my thoughts about Xander Grey’s excellent Prison of Souls!
Title: Prison of Souls
Author: Xander Grey
Genre: Science-Fiction Mystery
Release Date: September 8th, 2015
Amazon Link: HERE
Spoiler territory ahead, naturally.
So, I have to give Prison of Souls props right out of the gate; it’s a rare enough thing for a book to keep my interested from cover to cover. It’s rarer still that I feel like I genuinely cannot put the book down until I see some resolution. I’m an, admittedly, impatient person when it comes to reading; if I don’t find that a book is holding my attention in the first few chapters, I’ll set it aside and see if something else catches my eye/seems more worth my time. I managed to read about a third (hovering somewhere around 120 pages) of Prison of Souls, however, in one sitting.
I’m a huge sucker for these, what I call, ‘oddity plots.’ Prison of Souls’, for instance, hints at a woman without a brain being shot by a man in a trance who has mysterious seizures and no memory of the shooting who also ends up in jail with his childhood bully as a result. So, Souls sets out to already capitalize on the strangeness of its science fiction mythos to engross the audience. And, for me, it really worked. I may start to show this book as an example of restrained, self-aware science fiction. That is to say, science fiction done tastefully right. Nothing that would be categorized as ‘science fiction’ goes too beyond the understanding of basic physics and biology, save for the plot points centered around ‘quantum tunneling’ (which is cool stuff, look it up). However, points like that are mostly explained (in context of the story— we’re never just given a lesson in theoretical physics, thankfully) in the story, meaning there’s not too much background knowledge needed to fully appreciate it, and there’s never too much exposition to grind Soul’s quick pace to a halt.
There is one minor caveat to that, though. And, as it turns out, it makes up one of the most significant (and one of the only) issues with Souls. Its climax centers around Josh’s powers, something never explained throughout the novel (though, I never felt it needed to be explicitly explained [again, I love the element of sci-fi mystery], that was, until this particular part), and how it can be used to draw the Ouroboros into Slaven’s ‘Hell’ dimension.
However, at the (predictably) last moment, Josh’s powers manifest themselves in such a way that could only be called deus ex machina. His powers manifest in the exact way required to rectify his current predicament right at the correct time to save the day. For a power that Josh hardly knew he had his powers until very recently (story-wise), he demonstrates such a level of control as to make it unrealistic. Again, part of what really drew me into the sci-fi elements of Souls is that the primary subject of said elements, Josh, is an overwhelmed everyman who has had power forced upon him merely by chance. That dycodimoy really helps the audience get into the shoes of Josh; we understand his plight (to just get his life back in order and maybe learn some answers about his past, provided it’s not too inconvenient/dangerous) better because it’s undiluted by the machinations and rule sof science fiction superpowers. So, the sudden shift in the novel’s climax, in which Josh’s powers progress further from timely and a mite predictable to downright confusing. Josh becomes nearly godly in his ability to tap into the science fiction space-time stream (I think? I’ve read the section over a few times and, while I get the impression that it’s meant to be ambiguous, the precedent set earlier in the novel got me used to powers that are explained in simple terms rather than in no terms whatsoever) to completely undo the much-more intelligent and numerous Ouroboros in one fatal blow.
Nevermind the suddenness of Josh’s control of a barely-explained barely-showcased power, but that final scene by itself felt rushed to the point of breakneck. Everything up until Slaven and Josh’s fisticuffs was evenly-paced. It was quick but never skimped on key character development and plot progression. And after playing up the mysterious and uncontrollable factor of Josh’s past and his powers for so much of the book, to tie up all of the antagonists into a neat little box with a bow seemed anticlimactic. To that end, the moral choice that Josh looked to have to make inevitably (the one based on if he really should destroy Ouroboros due to their pure-sounding intentions of saving humanity from a rogue planet) getting reduced down to a much less complex (and, by effect, morally mature) situation that painted Ouroboros as purely evil was a wasted opportunity. This is especially jarring because of the focus on the tangled psyches and pasts of the key characters.
Oh, and I’m no astronomer (though I did study it in college for a semester), but wouldn’t a rogue planet a mere four-hundred years away from Earth be relatively easy to spot much earlier than Ouroboros claims to have seen it? If the scientific community, something that Josh seemed apt to know something of, had discovered such a thing (or even had hints of it), it would no doubt have some kind of presence in the community due to the potential danger. That’s a comparatively minor gripe in an altogether less-than-deal-breaking criticism of Souls, but as I was reading, I was thinking that Ouroboros may have had some pretty shaky reasoning to go back in time and do their whole song and dance.
Still, despite all that, I found myself really enjoying Prison of Souls. It was a deft work that skillfully introduced, followed, and developed all the characters it needed to. There was no excess or fluff to mar the real meat and mystery of the story, which is something I all-too often see in both science fiction and mystery works. Souls chose to focus on what its title suggests, however. That is, on the people (and the souls thereof). It gave a very human context which captured our hearts to the strange elements that captured the imagination. I don’t even care how cheesy that sounded, it’s what I think! And, if anything, I just wish there was a little bit more to the novel. I wanted to see just what a capgras could do, the paranoia Joshua might have once he realized he was being hunted by an organization staffed by face-changing flesh robots, and came to the realization that his enemies could be planted all over the world into places of power one day.
And that’s never a bad thing— if I ever want more from a work, that only means I was unhappy to set it down, unhappy to see it all come to an end.
Well, I just happened to look at my last review and saw I wanted to do this as a monthly thing. If it wasn’t for blasted grad school (and a brief anime convention in early July), I would have probably possibly met that goal!
Oh well, for next time. And I hope the next book I get to review is as good as this one~
Good luck, you brave writer folk!