was in two minds about it. Having thoroughly enjoyed Keyes’ ‘Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone’ series (although in retrospect, I’m wondering if I was a little too easy on ‘The Born Queen...) I was surprised to find myself feeling as ambivalent towards ‘The Infernal City’ as I did. Here was a book that was a real mix of ‘good and bad’; a book that showcased everything Keyes did so well in his previous works but, at the same time, a book that was aimed so squarely at ‘Elder Scrolls’ gamers that it was very light on the kind of detail that casual readers would need to be able to get into it easily.
A confusing read then where the good and frustrating balanced out in equal measure. According to the last lines of my review, ‘The Infernal City’ reads very much like half a book with characters being introduced only to be set up for events in Book Two... Decent characterisation and a couple of nice cliff hangers mean that I will be back for the second instalment though; hopefully things will pick up then...’ I almost wasn’t back for the second instalment though as I completely forgot about it in the intervening couple of years. What? ‘The Infernal City’ didn’t catch the imagination that much and it wasn’t as if I didn’t have other stuff on in the meantime...
‘Lord of Souls’ distinctive cover art, and Greg Keyes’ name on the cover, jogged my memory and I was keen to give the book a go; for a sense of closure on the story if nothing else. Okay that wasn’t the only reason, I’ve been mulling over a ‘Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone’ re-read just recently and thought this could be the next best thing. I was wrong, ‘Lord of Souls’ is very much more of what was on offer in ‘The Infernal City’ and not in a good way...
The land of Tamriel is still in mortal danger as the floating city of Umbriel drifts ever onwards towards the Imperial City, bringing the dead back to life in its wake. People are working to counter this threat but will their actions prove to be enough. Prince Attrebus is on the other side of the continent, looking for a magic sword that will kill the ruler of Umbriel. Even if he finds what he is looking for, can he make it back to the Imperial City in time? The Imperial spy Colin has uncovered hints of betrayal at the very roots of the empire but if he is to use this information then he must be sure that his own heart doesn’t betray him first. And Annaig, best placed to bring down Umbriel from within, is starting to wonder whether she actually wants to help her friends. Annaig is growing to quite like it where she is...
If I’m reviewing ‘the next book in a series’ then it’s always really difficult to avoid falling into the trap of basically regurgitating what I said about the last book, especially if I find that I’m not enjoying the series as a whole. Nine times out of ten I’ll skip over this little pitfall but this time round was more of a mixed bag. Not only is ‘Lord of Souls’ exactly the book that ‘The Infernal City’ was, it manages to come across as even worse on occasion. A disappointing read all in all.
Having already read ‘The Infernal City’, I found ‘Lord of Souls’ to be a little more accessible in terms of everything that wasn’t particularly well explained in the previous book. ‘Lord of Souls’ flowed a lot more smoothly, in this respect, and some of the action scenes, fighting the undead, were a lot of fun to read. It was also fun to return to Umbriel and visit the Kitchen and the Sump once again, two locales that are strange (and deadly) enough to warrant your interest. All good so far.
What I wasn’t counting on though was that Keyes would take out all of the characterisation that made the first book a fairly decent read. Characters may advance the plot but don’t appear to develop, within it, at all other than to fulfil a trope or two. Keyes doesn’t get inside their heads in the same way that he did last time round either; almost like he felt like he’d already done enough so he didn’t have to bother now. The end result is a bunch of characters that felt half finished, especially given the way that the first book signs off. I was all geared up to find out how they all finished the book and the approach that the book took left me feeling flat to say the least.
With no spark in any of the characters there isn’t really any spark to the plot either and things just meander along with only the occasional moments of zombie fighting or life in Umbriel that serve to remind you that ‘The Infernal City’ may have had its faults but it is still the better book. Stuff happens but it all feels rather soulless and that had me wondering just what the point of carrying on reading was. Sometimes I’m just bloody-minded and will read to the end regardless of anything else.
I’m coming to the conclusion that Greg Keyes doesn’t like writing series, especially by the time he gets to the last book. ‘Lord of Souls’ rounds off the story begun in ‘The Infernal City’ but I couldn’t escape the feeling that Keyes was literally tied to his desk and forced to write. It’s clear that Keyes’ heart isn’t in it and the story suffers for it.
Five out of Ten