Series: Kingdom of Souls #1
Release Date: 3rd September 2019
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Add it: Goodreads
Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.
Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.
There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.
She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.
Here’s my review of Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron! I’m very excited to have the opportunity to review Kingdom of Souls, which I thought was a great fantasy debut.
I have so many thoughts on this one! I’m going to try to be as coherent as possible. And no, that doesn’t mean this was a five star read (not quite!) but it ended up being a very solid four star one!
I read this book in two days. Partly because I had to (deadlines!) and partly because by the mid-way point I was kind of hooked. After about fifty percent, the book starts to kick off and I just could not put it down. But I should probably start from the beginning first.
I will admit, I didn’t love Kingdom of Souls to begin with. My two main issues were Arrah, the main character, and the writing style that didn’t really lend itself to the rich world building.
Arrah started out incredibly whiny. She kept going on and on about how she really wanted magic, how she was never chosen, how she was always last… and it all got a bit grating. For the first ten percent of the book I was rolling my eyes at her and was kind of like just SHUT UP.
The writing style started off very simple, and it put me off a bit because it was mixed with very rich and well-thought-out world building. I wanted the writing style to match that. But instead we got quite a bit of “Arrah did this, and then met twenty other people whose names you’re not going to remember later”. I feel like this could have been polished more.
But that all got so much better.
Once we got to know Arrah a bit, her thoughts and emotions made so much sense. So she was seemingly whiny, but we learn that she’s actually descended from the most powerful witchdoctors there are, so it makes sense that Arrah really, really wants to live up to those expectations. On top of that, her mother is a Priestess (THE Priestess), and is super beautiful and powerful, and has people basically dropping at her feet. Plus, Arrah’s mother barely pays attention to her, and Arrah thinks that’s because she doesn’t have magic and she’s a disappointment.
My advice if you think Arrah is whiny and needs to stop? Keep reading, because as you get to know her more, her actions make so much sense. And it’s a little heartbreaking the more you think about it.
As for the writing style, it did improve. I think I got used to it as I also got used to the massive cast of characters (there are twenty gods alone, and then all the witchdoctors, and THEN all the people in Tamar without magic). Barron did a fantastic job of balancing everything, although I think it may have been slightly too much of a challenge for a debut author to tackle at first.
Massive points for the representation as well. This is is obviously West African inspired, and there are a few other cultures (mildly) represented in there as well. There’s also what I think is a non-binary god as a minor character (who might become more relevant in the sequel??) and a couple of other mentions of LGBTQ+ characters. Minor, but woven into the world quite well. I’m hoping for more of that from the sequel!
By the way, there’s a SHIP. I haven’t had a good ship in YA books for so, so long. I never get invested any more because, to be honest, I’m probably a bit old for that (*gasp* I can’t believe I just said that either). But Arrah and Rudjek read more like adults to be honest, and I think that’s why I ended up rooting for them. I’m really worried about where they’re going to go in the sequel, after what happened at the end there. Is this going to be another Shadow and Bone situation for the shippers?
While we’re talking about relationships, I’m going to quickly mention Arrah and Efia. I was a little let down by how this relationship was handled, purely because I feel like a lot more time should have been spent on it. I would have been a lot more emotionally involved if I had seen them interact more, especially if they had had more cute moments. Instead they only had one, and then it was quickly onto the next thing. I understand why Barron had to speed things up, but this relationship was kind of crucial to the entire second half of the book, ya know? So more of that would have been good so I could have become more invested at the end.
There’s also a twist that I didn’t see coming. I won’t say where it was or anything about it, but I did think it played out really well and I’m quite impressed that Barron tricked me like that.
Overall, Kingdom of Souls is one I would recommend! It’s not a new favourite of mine, but it definitely stands out against the rest of the YA fantasy I have been reading this year.
Thank you for reading my review of Kingdom of Souls! If you want to read more of my reviews, check out my review index. If you would like to request a review from me, please read my review policy before contacting me via email.