Before I say anything else, understand that I’m a huge fan of Faith Hunter‘s work. I love her voice, the care with which she develops her settings, the evocative imagery and language, and — most of all — I love her character development. That she gives urban fantasy a shot in the arm with each new novel and short story only adds to my appreciation.
Frankly, I was concerned that her new series Soulwood wouldn’t be able to deliver the same rich, beautiful mix of elements, painted with the hand of a poet, I have come to admire.
If you’re familiar with her Jane Yellowrock books, you’ll recognize some significant recurring characters. This is a spinoff novel that has enough depth and chops to hold its own… and, quite honestly, that also describes the book’s heroine and protagonist, Nell Ingram. She’s more than plucky… she’s fiercely independent, but also lonely. She’s fragile, but unyielding. Her world view is viewed as limited by others, but her mental and emotional flexibility is one of her more appealing traits.
Without giving too much away, she’s a woman making a life for herself outside the church/cult (depending on your perspective) of her childhood. She’s forced to deal with situations and people out of her comfort zone, and the conflicts this causes in her life ripple out with ever-broadening revelations… about herself, her world, her family, and everything she thinks she knows to be true. Don’t think that makes it “chick lit” — although you will likely find this an enjoyable read if that’s a genre you keep on your bookshelves.
Nell isn’t human. She’s something entirely new and different, which, combined with elements taken from the Jane Yellowrock world, satisfies those who, like me, love urban fantasy but long for something different to spice up the genre. “What” she is is spooled out over the course of this novel, and hinted at in “Off the Grid” (a short story in the Blood in Her Veins Yellowrock anthology). I’m waiting for the next Soulwood installment to explore this further, as it’s really a fascinating twist on the usual paranormal fare. It’s at once deeply spiritual and nightmarish… you’ll have to read it to understand.
You still get a bit of romance here, and I’m delighted it’s not the depraved, bodice-ripping sort. There’s a place for that, but I like my books light on the sex and heavy on rich plots and complex character development. Check, and check.
I will say this: I read voraciously, daily. But for me to review a book on my blog or leave more than a starred review on Goodreads, I must have very strong feelings about it. This review is done not out of a sense of solidarity or support for an author whose work I enjoy (and I most certainly do admire her and her work), but because something about this book sticks with me and I cannot shake it. I don’t want to shake it. I want more of it.
At one part of this story, I was actually moved to tears. This was due in no small part to the phenomenal work of voice actor Khristine Hvam, who delivered a completely soulful audio performance of this novel. I loved this particular scene so much, I listened to it twice… the second time, with my eyes closed and tears welling. I hate spoilers in reviews but I will say it happened during a point at which Nell has a profoundly personal experience in the woods. Her understanding of it unfolds and evokes the most raw, real emotion in the reader… in me.
Nature is an important part of this book, as is the way different people view the land and work with or against it. It makes for an interesting sidelong discussion that will prick at you long afterward. You’ll likely look at your garden or the closest forested area in a new light. And that’s well and good in any case. It’s kind of Nell’s “thing.”
Nell and I would get along very well, I think. She’s an introvert and empathetic almost to a fault. She loves her solitude but also longs for connection. Superficial things don’t interest her. Meaningful things do. If you were to work out her MBTI personality type, I’d peg her as an INFJ. Takes one to know one.
And she loves to read. Oh, my soul sister has an entire book series!
If you’re longing for a truly wonderful new heroine, check out this series. You’ll thank me for it.