Bane of Souls by Thaddeus White tells the story of a town experiencing a spate of murders, and the attempts of various characters including mages, the guard captain and others to find and defeat the culprit.
I’ll admit at this stage that I have not finished reading this book. I got a little further than two thirds of the way through and gave up.
The blurb available on Amazon suggests that the protagonist is Horst, a young nomadic trader who learns he has magical abilities and has to remain in Highford for training. However, there are several other points of view, including important mages, the guard captain and beggar Francis. The head-hopping enables a wider view of what’s going on and gives the reader information that characters don’t have, building tension, but means that it is difficult to understand any of the characters in any depth.
Horst himself seems a superfluous character. In the two thirds of the book I’ve read, he has made almost no impact upon the plot; that impact he has made, in his scenes with Francis, could have been fulfilled more neatly by other characters. In all else, he follows instructions from his tutors and makes almost no decisions for himself. Most of his scenes have very little to do with the core plot relating to the murders and their culprit.
Characterisation in general is fairly shallow. Most characters are distinct from one another, but in cultural ways rather than personality – Horst’s thoughts and actions are clearly very much based on his culture and upbringing, for example, and go no further. In one case, the character Francis seems to accept a state of affairs far too easily and unquestioningly – which serves the plot, but at the cost of his characterisation.
White has, however, managed to give his characters a distinct voice each, which are generally appropriate to their social position and background.
The plot is carefully woven, with lots of characters and elements involved, but after the half-way point, which feels very much like an ending on its own, the pacing slows down and direction is lost; this is why I stopped reading. There remained little pulling me forward.
White occasionally uses language which is obscure or academic, requiring even me (and I like to think I’ve got a strong vocabulary) to look words up – which isn’t good for immersion. Sometimes sentence structure is awkward. When his language is better targeted to the audience’s reading level, though, he is skilled at painting a scene, giving just the right amount of information about the setting and atmosphere before launching into the scene’s activity.
Bane of Souls could have benefitted from a thorough round of editing. Structurally, it could have been improved to keep pacing up after the midpoint and to tighten the focus around key characters rather than hopping between at least seven points of view. A line edit could have eliminated the problem of obscure words and sentence flow and tightened the prose.
In terms of revealing information about the murders, White has judged well. He reveals just enough about the murderer to keep the plot moving forward while keeping enough back to keep the mystery in place.
Worldbuilding is strong. While the events (as far as I have read) all occur in the same place, Highford, there is a strong sense of the wider world, and the influences and pressures events outside Highford have on what’s going on inside. The linguistic choices – using Latinesque words for the mages, French-style language for the ruling, occupying class, English-sounding words for the main population of Highford and Germanic sounds for the culture Horst comes from – is a little blunt, but effective. Highford itself has some interesting flavours and the magical elements of the world are cool, fun and fit well within the story and setting.
Overall I rate Bane of Souls at 5/10. It is strong enough until the midpoint to keep me reading, but needs tightening up across many facets, with fluff removed and something more compelling after the midpoint climax to drive the story forward.