Monday, 16 November 2009

Feast of Souls by Celia Friedman

November 2009, Orbit
608 pages, Paperback
Review Copy (chained to my bookcase)


Cushions: 5+
Daggers: 1
Paperclips: 3 (adult content but not that often)
Tissues: 3
Yunaleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥

As I sit here typing with a sore head (head + shelf = ouch in a way that's not quite a headache, but still painful) I'm smiling at this book. I want to read it again right now!

Note: I wrote this review before reading the cover details of the second book, Wings of Wrath. I came up with the price of magic information without seeing any other review of this and the second book. I just don't want anyone to think I stole their ideas.

This is a page-turning new fantasy trilogy from Celia Friedman. I haven't read any of her other work, but I plan to. Before I get into the story, I'd like to say that this book is about the price of magic. At least that's how I view it. Magic has to cost something, even if it's just the caster getting tired or needing to eat more. Feast of Souls has a clever concept about what the price of magic is - I won't spoil it for you, but it is something which initially didn't affect me as a reader, but as the story progressed with more emotional attachment to the characters, I needed a lot of tissues at the end.

The world within Feast of Souls has magic. People called witches can use magic, but not on a grand scale. Oh and witches are both male and female. Magisters, an elite male group (no females allowed) have a lot of power. They don't even really pay directly for the price of magic. I think the only mini-spoiler I can give is one word: 'consort'. The consort pays the price.

Feast of Souls follows several characters. The first is Prince Andovan, who is technically dead. He embarks on a quest to find out the identity of who he believes is a witch involved with the disease he is afflicted with. Now, for almost no real apparent reason I imagined that Andovan was a spoilt brat with airs and graces. His actions really prove otherwise, and unlike his father who is going mad, he cares about people. He wants to help them, when he knows that he himself can't be helped.

The king, traumatised by his son's death banishes the Magister who was close to him, and hires one who no one has heard of. This particular Magister needs watching in the story. Evil is a word which only begins to describe Magister Kostas's true motives. Poor Queen Gwynofar has to deal with Magister Kostas. Again, I had an image of her in my mind which got shattered when I read the chapters in her point of view. Her marriage was one of convenience. She belongs to a race who have powers as Protectors(some latent) that played a part in the previous war where horrendous creatures roamed the earth. After the birth of her children she was pretty much allowed to do her own thing - the king was happy with this arrangement. Unfortunately, with the arrival of Magister Kosta comes dark times for the Gwynofar. Her own family do what they can, but they can't openly protect her from the king and his new Magister. Can she live up to her duties as a Protector? Hers isn't the only sad tale in this story.

There are other characters, but the one main one I'm keen on is Kamala. A child coming from a horrific background, she knows she has powers. She sets off and forces herself on a hermit Magister, who trains her up as a student. This in itself is unusual, because women just aren't Magisters. The moment when a student becomes a Magister is particularly trying, and women (apparently - the Magisters have a dim view on this) aren't strong enough to face it. Let's just say that Kamala is different. She becomes a Magister, but has to keep her powers hidden from other Magisters because they probably won't accept her in the positive manner which the hermit Magister views her. The problem is, she ends up drawing attention to herself which she's the witness (and also the perpetrator) of an incident involving another Magister. This is not a good thing. Not only is she different in being female, but she wants to discover the identity of her consort.

What I love about Feast of Souls is the concept of the price of magic, how much the characters change and grow (and this is just the first book in the trilogy). It's interesting watching how people, with the wrong influence, can unleash their darker side. And equally, how with keeping the right type of company and gaining encouragement people can find an inner strength to face hardships straight on.

I can happily note that content wise, although there are a few instances of adult relationships (not all consenting adults) it isn't that often and is done tastefully. The title fits the story perfectly, especially once you've finished it and reflected on it. I'm delighted I have the second book which I'll start reading tonight. For magic, intrigue and danger, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Like this? Check out Wings of Wrath, the second book in this Magister trilogy.

Celia Friedman has her own website here.

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