The Lost Soul by K.S. Marsden is a fantasy adventure book where a young girl gets mysteriously transported to the world of Enchena. So let’s start off with the book cover. If you’re a reader who isn’t really interested in reading a book that seems heavily catered to girls (think Barbie’s playhouse). You may think that The Lost Soul is not for you since it has a unicorn featured prominently on the cover.
You would be mistaken. The Lost Soul is an extremely refreshing take on a well treaded genre. First off, the cover is pretty indicative of what you’re going to get, a fantasy story that also involves unicorns. I promise you, this is not a bad thing. I love the photo, love the font, and overall it’s just a very beautiful cover. But enough about aesthetics, let’s talk about the book itself.
The Lost Soul centers around a teenage girl named Samantha and her crush David. One day after school, Samantha witnesses David being assaulted by a group of men and follows them in order to attempt a rescue. Somehow he ends up being flung through a portal into another world and Samantha decides to go after him.
So . . . I had a hard time getting into where this portal was and Samantha going after him. Granted this is a story about talking unicorns, wolves, magic and necromancy but the portal location was a little out there for me.
<spoiler>Some old woman’s house.</spoiler>
Once we enter the world of Enchena that’s when we get to meet some really interesting characters (and not all of them human). K.S. Marsden did an absolutely wonderful job of turning unicorns into fully fleshed out characters with motives. This isn’t some kind of my little ponies gag but rather human characters in equine form.
Marsden uses the mannerisms of horses to express their feelings and thoughts with great effect. When a horse neighs or stamps its foot, you can tell whether it’s afraid or angry or impatient. What’s most fascinating to me is that I actually liked the unicorn characters. I’m generally the type of reader that prefers human characters over animal characters, but in this book the animals totally stole the show. There’s stubborn unicorns, vengeful unicorns, distrustful unicorns, sympathetic unicorns, basically an entire selection of diverse characters who don’t feel campy in the slightest.
Character voice has always been K.S. Marsden’s strong point and she absolutely nails it with all of her non human characters.
My personal favorite creature was Siabhor. A mallus who is best likened to a werewolf without the human transformation. Siabhor is a creature of instinct, like a lion preying on a gazelle. He is proud to be a mallus and yet is relatable because he struggles with finding a place to fit in. He’s impatient, sometimes cowardly, a complainer, lazy, and goes to great lengths to suppress his primal urges so as not to hurt his friends. Siabhor was the most fun I had reading a non-human character and I loved reading the scenes which included him.
I also found Marsden’s take on werewolves to be quite interesting and different. Instead of humans turning into wolves, the mallus are simply a pack of wolves that walk on two legs. They love to climb trees, are driven to hunt, and feel like the perfect predator for the world of Enchena.. Marsden’s descriptions made it easy for me to visualize, essentially, a giant hairy monkey with a wolf’s face and claws.
In fact, a lot of Marsden’s descriptions were spot on and had a wonderful flow to them which made it easy to visualize the world she’s created. In fact, I would wager that this book could be an equivalent to Chronicles of Narnia and its films. A lot of Marsden’s excellent descriptions made me feel like I was watching a film in the theaters.
Sadly, there were a few technical issues which hurt the book in many ways. There were several instances where I encountered a typo here and there but those were forgivable. What I couldn’t overlook was the pacing of the plot and the motivations of the main characters. If I had to describe the plot in one word it would be: RUSHED.
A lot of elements move at a breakneck pace without giving the characters an opportunity to grow and develop. Samantha, our main protagonist, is the biggest victim of odd pacing because you never see the transition from scared teenager to resident of Enchena.
“They finally had a reason and an action. The power of the Lost Soul was surfacing and if they could persuade a mallus, the most feared creature in Enchena to join them, perhaps they could fulfil a prophecy. Perhaps they could defeat Hrafn.” (Referring to Samantha and David deciding to stay in Enchena.)
This scene happens shortly after Samantha and David realize that they can’t go back to the human world. To put this into perspective, it’s the equivalent of entering someone’s house, realizing the door is locked, and then immediately giving up any hope of escape without trying the window or the back door. Also keep in mind that these characters do have a family to go back to, so they’re not a bunch of orphans without a place to go.
These characters essentially needed to be upset about not going home.
What The Lost Soul was missing were scenes where the characters would break down over the fact that they’d never see their family again. Maybe once Samantha thought of her mother but it was never enough to make Samantha break down into tears. Samantha was simply too eager to embrace her new life and fight alongside David. This to me was disingenuous because Samantha did not come from a broken home. The worst thing that had happened to her up until this point was that she was pretty much ignored by her classmates, that’s all.
I wanted to see scenes where Samantha and David discussed the fact that they might never go home. I would have gladly sacrificed the scenes where Samantha was stuck in a castle for these intimate moments so that we can empathize with the characters.
In fact, it seemed that there was more thought put into the stories of the unicorns and the mallus rather than our human characters, the ones we were supposed to relate to. Granted, the non-humans are a wonderful cast, but I don’t see myself in these animals like I do with the humans.
The plot was also unfortunately, quite predictable (except for one twist which caught me by surprise). It didn’t live up to the grand expectations it was building up to.
What hurt this book the most was the lack of a developmental edit where someone would say, “This needs more fleshing out. We need to slow this down. This needs a better transition to suggest passage of time.” Once the plot starts closing in on the inevitable conflict that the book seems to promise, it goes off with a whimper instead of a bang. The ending lacked the high stakes and much needed visuals to finish off the book. It’s like going to a fireworks show expecting a huge grand finale with dazzling sparkles and thundering booms and instead you get a few scattered pops and it’s over.
Also, I really hated the Gardyn (rebel group who we’re supposed to cheer for) and all that people who were a part of that team. I didn’t understand why Samantha would ever want to help them because the Gardyn was full a-hole characters. In fact, the conflict between Gardyn and King Hrafn didn’t make any sense. At no point in the book did we ever get to see why Hrafn being in power was such a bad thing. The descriptions of Enchena made it seem like a beautiful and pristine place. Not once were there people being whipped, enslaved, or towns being burned.
Hrafn was not a compelling villain because he never did anything that was truly evil. If he did, I sure as hell didn’t see it in the story. Aside’s from kidnapping David, Hrafn really didn’t do anything to deserve a rebellion. Raising a few corpses from the dead also didn’t warrant, in my opinion, the rebellion we’re told to root for.
Despite all of this, I still have to give The Lost Souls a 4 out of 5 stars. Why not a 3? Simple. I had a genuinely wonderful time reading this book. Unlike other books which bored me to tears, *cough* Tom Clancy and Diamond Age *cough*. The Lost Soul kept me entertained and eager to read more. (The backstory about how Enchena was created and the Goddess was one of my favorite bits of writing to read.)
The Lost Soul may have its flaws in terms of pacing and plot, but the characters are absolutely wonderful, the prose is vivid, and the world is just waiting to be turned into a movie.
For those who enjoy fantasy, I would definitely recommend reading this book. If the author ever does a re-edit that improves the plot and character motivations, I could definitely see myself giving it a 5.
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