REVIEW: Soul Song by Marjorie Liu
Dear Ms. Liu:
I had never read you before and as the Dirk and Steele series became longer, I became more intimidated by the idea that I would have to read 3 or 4 or even 5 books to catch up. When I was sent Soul Song as part of Dorchester’s Buzz Campaign, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try. After all, the book was free, and if I didn’t like it, I could always set it aside without having wasted any money and very little effort. I was intrigued from the very beginning when the protagonist is forced to steal the soul of a woman against his will.
Kitala Bell is a world class violinist. Her concerts are sold out everywhere because her music has a way of striking to the heart of the listener, evoking emotional responses. Kitala is obviously no ordinary musician and her skill with the violin is not her only otherworld quality. Kitala is cursed with seeing visions of people’s deaths, usually violent ones. Most days she attempts to ignore these visions but one day she sees a woman with death stamped on her face and intercedes, thus setting off a chain of events that could lead to Kitala’s own death.
M’cal made a mistake as a young man and has been paying for it ever since. M’cal is a Krakeni, a type of merman who can bind people with his voice. When his mother died, M’cal determined that he would seek out the world of man, the world of his mother. He was young and foolish and allowed himself to be seduced by a witch who bound him to her. Through her sorcery, M’cal is forced take the souls of people to feed her. If he does not, he is felled with excruciating pain; pain so great that he longs for death but as one who is immortal cannot die. In the beginning, he would fight but as time wore on, he became more resigned to his position as her lackey growing to hate himself and his existence more each day.
He is sent to steal Kitala’s soul but upon hearing her music he cannot. Together, M’Cal and Kitala must find a way to break the bond between M’cal and his master.
Kitala and M’cal are the protagonists of this story but their future is shaped, in large part, by those who have come before them and who have made great sacrifices to keep them safe. Each character in this book is connected both backward and forward to some kind of destiny, even the villianness. The theming of sacrifice and reward made the love story bittersweet. M’cal and Kitala each find peace for themselves and with one another but it comes with a cost.
The weakness in the story was the pacing which was uneven and slow at times. I felt that some of the story was told with too much of a shroud making some of the plot points confusing. While I didn’t think that the characters from other books were overly intrusive, I didn’t find them integral to the plot either so I wondered if their appearance was gratitous.
I should add one word of caution and that is this book does have some violent scenes, but I can't say it bothered me. The balance of emotions made this a strong story which lingered with me after I closed the book and it made me interested in reading the previous five stories in the Dirk and Steele series. B
I’ve recently finished reading an ARC of Soul Song and it was sch an amazing book. Now, having not read the previous stories in this series, I plan to obtain & read all of them. I’m very happy that I was able to get my hands on this book & start my adventure into reading Ms. Liu’s work.
Do you need to read the whole series to read this one?
That is so kind of you, Jane. Thank you for that lovely review. I admit, even I had questions with the pacing after I was done and some time had passed, but at a certain point I’ve learned how to force myself to let go and stop fretting. That, and I run out of time to make changes. Wah!
And thank you, Stacia!
I had not read any other Liu works, not even an anthology entry and found this story to be completely contained. It wasnt so much the fascinating world she built that made me want to read other works but the quality of the writing. Lou can tell a story that makes you feel for the characters.
Well, it’s up to me tp toss some sand in Jane’s Vaseline. I tried to read this after Jane sent me the ARC and didn’t get past chapter 4. I read Ms. Liu’s first book Tiger Something and gave it a C+ w/ a note that if she could get control of her plots and pacing, she’d be good. Sorry to say that this book doesn’t make me want to go back and try the intervening books.
Jayne, you are such a party pooper. I can see why this didn’t appeal to you though. Too slow to keep your interest? I liked the tone and the musical aspects. There was a sort of quiet lyricism that I read into it. Maybe not so much for others though.
that guy on the cover is very popular these days, huh?
Is that Nathan Kemp?
Well, this review made me want to read it and now the debate between the Ja(y)nes makes me even more curious.
IMO, all of her works display this. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical, a joy to read. It was Tiger Eye that ultimately led me here. I was blown away by that first book, and went in search of her website and, from there, wandered my way through blogland (although I remain primarily a lurker).
I haven’t read her yet – can’t wait. I’ll be starting from the first book, tho.
Shadow Heart and Red Heart of Jade are fantastic, and I thought the plot and pacing were very well done in both. Maybe Jayne started in the wrong place? I still haven’t gone back to read Tiger Eye, so I can’t say if it’s different. I’m really enjoying Dirk and Steele!
I’ll try and go back and find my notes on “Tiger Eye” and post my thoughts on it. I found “Soul Song” to be boring. And this was after the first attack on Kit. I read up to the part where she takes off in what’shisname’s car (he tells her he was sent to kill her and she still sticks around to ask him questions!) and heads for some hotel. I emailed Jane and asked if it gets better later on (telling her I was bored then) and she advised me to stop there.
Jayne, I’d recommend that you read SHADOW TOUCH of Marjorie’s, or A TOUCH OF CRIMSON. I thought the first part of SOUL SONG was a bit slowish, but since I love me some Liu, I put my head down for the long haul and was not disappointed. It does get a lot better. For what it’s worth, TIGER EYE had the same slow beginning but improved as well. Sometimes that first 50 pages just needs to be chucked. :)
But I love Marjorie’s novels with oodles of love. And they all stand alone, for those that are wondering. It makes it interesting to see recurring characters pop into the current book, but you certainly don’t need to read the prior ones to enjoy.
Quick question. One thing I’ve noticed in Liu’s novels is her tendency to have the h/h realize they love each other relatively early in the book, and then to use external conflict as the sole impediment to the developing romance. Does this accurately describe Soul Song as well? (If so, I’m not going to give this one a try. I agree that Liu writes well, but I barely made it through the Red Heart because I found myself entirely unenthusiastic about the book as a *romance.*)
I’ve Shadow Touch on my bookshelf, which I’m going to read as soon as I finish school. God, five more weeks, I can do it.
Is it wrong to say that I’m in part interested in Liu’s books because she’s so gorgeous? ;-) Maybe Jane should do a column on how authors’ looks affect readers. Are we more likely to pick up and try a book when the author is beautiful?
I’d be very interested in the answer to Emma’s question too. I haven’t read Liu at all, but I generally prefer books with internal conflicts to those with purely external ones.
This story is similar to the ones Emma has read in that the love seems to be quick in its generation. But there is plenty of internal, but individual, conflict for both M’Cal and Kitala. Kitala is learning to come to grips with her ‘gift’ and M’Cal must face that his impetuosity led him to this terrible place and that he had become complacent of late, stealing souls and hating himself rather than searching for a way out.
Thanks for the reply, Jane! That’s what I was afraid of. I guess I’ll be giving this one a miss. :(
Actually, I found Red Heart of Jade the weakest of the series so if anyone started with that one, the rest are much better and I would suggest you give the series another chance.
I think Shadow Touch is my favorite. Then Tiger Eye. I have yet to read Soul Song yet as I was finishing up some other books before buying it. IT IS on my to buy list though. Her Crimson City novel, A Touch of Crimson, was the strongest in the Crimson series (which were written by several different authors). She comes up with some unique heroes and heroines in the “paranormal” romance. I like that she has interwoven so many diverse creatures/species in her series. It is rare for me to find “mer-people” of any sort in books these days. Same goes for ghosts, gargoyles, ect. She has enough adventure in her series to actually qualify some of her books in the fantasy/sci-fi section of stores around here.
Its so great that we can speak on the internet