I’ve been sick for a couple of weeks now, which means I will invariably resort to reading more and more in a vain attempt to find some escape from being sick – it might not be hot chicken noodle soup, but it works pretty well for me. I will therefore normally find myself scouring Amazon’s Kindle store for some fantasy books that I can plough through in my weakened state.
Enter the winner of 2013’s Best Fantasy Novel for the Aurealis Awards, A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan.
I’ve really been looking forward to reviewing this book ever since I started reading it the other day, if for no other reason than that I might be able to get a handle on what it was I read. A Crucible of Souls completely flew underneath my radar – for which, at least in some way, I am grateful, because it means I was able to immediately start the 2014 sequel.
Harper Collins describes the book as “an epic fantasy reminiscent of Brent Weeks, Peter V Brett and Patrick Rothfuss, A Crucible of Souls was the first self-published novel to win the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel.” It’s every publisher’s duty to try and compare a new book to something that has come before it, but in this case I think they have done author Mitchell Hogan a disservice. While somewhat simplistic in terms of the flow and style of writing, Hogan definitely writes better than Peter V. Brett. Any similarities to Patrick Rothfuss are found in the fact that the main character, Caldan, attends a sorcerous academic institution, and there the similarities end – and I consider this a good thing, as Hogan does not come across as simply a Rothfuss-imitator.
In fact, while reading A Crucible of Souls – and accounting for the somewhat more simplistic style utilised by the author – I found it compared more to Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen than anything else I have read (which, by this point of my tenure here at FBR, should be saying a lot). Let me explain though.
Hogan doesn’t endear himself to those who believe it is a weakness to have to swap perspectives. There is neither rhyme nor reason to when a character POV will happen, except that they all serve to continue a really impressive story. There is no explanation of the mysterious or mysteries that flood the book, leaving the reader very much having to concentrate to take in all the details that are provided. On top of that, very few answers are provided by the time we reach the end of this first book. Many have died, much is in disarray, and I have no clue what is going to happen.
The weaving of multiple storylines is done in a haphazard manner – which is not to say it is lazy, but rather perfectly timed, with smaller storylines becoming larger and larger ones decreasing in importance as the book progresses, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.
In many ways, A Crucible of the Souls has all the hallmarks of a Steven Erikson-written story, complete with absolutely no help being provided to the reader to help understand what is going on, who is who, or what is what. There is a lot of history and sociology left hanging, and by the end of the book not much is said.
The writing did strike me as simplistic, raising questions as to why it was awarded Best Fantasy Novel in 2013, but this simplicity doesn’t detract from the overall. At times there are moments that an editor could have done more, but all in all, the moment you think you are reading a trope, it will invariably soon be turned on its head, or simply done so well you don’t realise it’s a trope at all (with the exception of the unfortunate consequences of the mental attack that nearly-concludes the book).
I don’t know if I would have voted for this book to be a Best Fantasy Book of 2013, but then again, I don’t know if I wouldn’t have either. This book deserves comparison to Steven Erikson’s brilliant Malazan series, and a stricter editor. But at the end of the day, the moment my Kindle prompted me to buy the next book in the series I was already waiting for the opportunity to purchase it – and that, I think, is proof enough of this book’s quality.
Review by Joshua S Hill
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