They Suck the Life Right Out of You: Souls Thieves and Soul Eaters in Fantasy Fiction
The soul is that mysterious, invisible, intangible part of ourselves that gives us life and identity. It's so crucial to our existence that it's no surprise we worry about keeping ours safe at all costs.
Two fantasy novels I've read have centred around the concept of a Soul Thief or Soul Eater: City of Hope and Despair by Ian Whates and Legacy of Kings by Celia Friedman. A widespread threat to the human soul has been at the very heart of each story, yielding narrative tension to die for!
Legacy of Kings is a full-on epic fantasy novel where Penitent King Salvator puts aside his religious scruples to team up with his mother Gwynofar, who has magical powers, and the Magisters (a group of powerful sorcerers who wouldn't usually work with Penitents or women). The Soul Eaters have been an intensely dangerous part of their world for far too long, and the threat they pose is graphically described:
"What she was smelling was power...and the death of power. Some creature had met its end here, violently enough that its spiritual essence had been splattered across the landscape. That was the trace that she was sensing now, that her mind was interpreting as scent: psychic bloodstains."
City of Hope and Despair is still fantasy, but it has a more urban feel. The dark forces of Soul Thieves are again a powerful source of fear in a dark narrative full of action and bloodletting. Soul Thieves are dangerous, and phials of unguent sold by healers to repel the bloodsuckers aren't really effective, so gangs form to hunt them down:
"The night's stillness was shattered by a strange, piercing wail, sounding as if it were only a short way ahead. Kat broke into a sprint. She knew what the inhuman cry had to mean: the Tattooed Men had caught up with the Soul Thief."
Most faiths indicate that the soul is immortal, and this greatly increases the fear created in fiction by the existence of Soul Eaters or Soul Thieves. The part of us that should be free on death to travel to whatever afterlife exists in our faith system of choice is cruelly snatched away.
We are then left terrified of what will happen to that soul - either languishing in torment controlled by whatever evil created the Soul Thief or Soul Eater, or destroyed forever and denied its essential immortality.
Thankfully, humans in fantasy novels are resilient and determined to fight back against having this powerful essence denied to them. In both books, new partnerships are forged in adversity to protect it at all costs.
I loved the books I've read recently featuring Soul Eaters and Soul Thieves. They were powerful and terrifying in equal measure.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my article about eating and drinking in horror fiction (Food for Thought) here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Outlaw King here.