Book Review: The Bound Soul by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #3)
The group from the first two Halcyon adventures are resting up in Marrakesh, albeit in their own separate mini-groups, when a mysterious assailant with a fiery sword shows up and manages to kill Don Lorenzo. Immediately bent upon revenge, Qhora takes Mirari and an old enemy with an interest in the famous seireiken (flaming swords) on a new airship piloted by Taziri on a chase not just to avenge the Don’s death but also to free his soul from the aetherium.
I discovered the hidden gem in the steampunk world that is Joseph Robert Lewis’s indie series The Other Earth back when he offered me the first copy in the series for review. The series consists of two trilogies and a set of companion novels. He sent me one of the trilogies for review, and I picked up the fourth book in the series (first in the second trilogy) on one of his frequent 100% off coupon code/giveaway days he has on his site (which you should definitely follow if you’re into the series and want a chance to flesh it out without buying them all at once). All of which is to say, I clearly am a fan of the series. I would certainly hope so. I can’t imagine reading a series beyond book 1 or 2 if you didn’t like it.
In any case, I’ve come to expect two things from Lewis’s writing that make me enjoy it so much: strong world-building and editing and creative stereotype-defining characters. Alas, these weren’t quite so strong in this entry. I think perhaps the book suffers from the classic third book in the trilogy problem that is seen in many many trilogies. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it. I simply found the earlier books to be better.
Part of what I enjoyed about the earlier books was the unique marriages going on, particularly Qhora and Lorenzo’s. They had just finished sorting out their differences, so killing off Enzo felt a bit like an odd choice to me. While I enjoyed the plot of the seireikens and discovering more of the East in this reimagining of the world, I wish that we hadn’t lost the unique pairing of a religious, pacifistish Caucasian man with a fiery, independent Incan woman. I know characters die, but it still took that unique aspect out of the book that I had so enjoyed. In fact, we now verged a bit too close to stereotype, what with a terrorist-style Aegyptian and a revenge-seeking Native.
Similarly, I don’t feel that Aegypt was as creatively built as the other alternate history areas of Marrakesh and Espani. Espani keeps some semblance of its Catholicism with its more conservative culture and following the “three-faced god,” but it still is creative with its vastly different climate of ice and culture that creates. In contrast, Aegypt is still a desert. It is full of undesirables and criminal culture from everywhere. People wear what appears to be the same clothing as one would expect in Egypt today, and women are still oppressed. If we’re imagining an alternate vision of Earth, why couldn’t we have a progressive Middle East? Maybe one where the women wear scarves for a practical reason (such as to keep dust out of their hair) but hold positions of power within the culture and city. That’s the sort of thing I was expecting from Lewis, so I was a bit disappointed to see such a stereotypical portrayal of the Middle East. Remember. This is an alternate history series. The whole idea is how things might be different if a few aspects of history were changed, such as weather and disease transmission. He’s not tied to reality, which leaves room for a lot more creativity than is seen in this reimagining of Egypt.
In contrast, the fantastical and scientific concepts are still strong. The idea of the seireiken–a sword made from aetherium that steals the soul of those it touches–is a great addition to the world Lewis has built. Similarly, Taziri’s new airship is yet again surprising, in spite of seeing two airships from her before. Another element of fantasy enters that I won’t reveal, because that would ruin the surprise and flair, but that I felt fit in well with the world and was a nice touch. Similarly, the fight scenes are well-written with neither too much description nor too little. Also, although more new characters are added, it never feels overwhelming or hard to keep track of them. Readers with an interest in having differently abled people represented will be pleased to know that one of these new characters is a well-written Little Person.
One other thought, I have to say that I was disappointed in this cover. Qhora does not look like a Native Incan woman to me. She struck me as Caucasian. In fact, it wasn’t until I was reading the book and realized that Turi (the eagle) only rests on Qhora’s arm that I realized this woman is supposed to be her. (Google Image Search “Incan woman” to see what I mean).
Overall then, although this book is not as impressive or thought-provoking as the first two in the series, it still tells an engaging story with lots of action. I’m hopeful that Lewis’s ability demonstrated in the first two books to see multiple possibilities for various cultures and peoples will return to its previous strength in the next books in the series.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review