Slamming through the boundaries of fail: Soul Stealers by Andy Remic (Angry Robot, 2010)

At the end of Kell’s Legend, King Leonoric and the army of Falanor had been defeated by General Graal and our heroes Kell and Saark were trapped on top of a ruined skyscraper by a horde of cankers. Kell’s grand-daughter Nienna had been poisoned and subsequently kidnapped by Myriam and the Jailers in order to persuade Kell to lead them to Silva Valley, where Myriam hoped that the vachines will give her clockwork to cure her cancer1. Meanwhile Anukis, having rescued Queen Alloria from her vachine captors, is back on her quest to find her father Kradek-Ka and has fallen into a whirlpool deep inside the Black Pike mountains.

In an attempt to avoid gratuitous sniping of the second book in the Clockwork Vampires trilogy, I endeavoured to concentrate on the plot and characters rather than minor issues such as style and form. This proved difficult for a couple of reasons, namely Remic’s writing manages to be worse in this book, relying heavily on italicised text for emphasis2, Capitalising The First Letter Of Place Names to make them seem more important3 as well as the ever-present…ellipses, and more importantly because the plot is complete bobbins. Let’s take the former as accepted and move on with reasons for the latter.

In this second installment, we discover that Graal has harvested Falanor’s population not to provide sustenance for the vachines in Silva Valley, but to provide the blood-oil required to summon the Vampire Warlords from their exile in the Chaos Halls. Graal and Kradek-ka intend to use the Vampire Warlords to remove the inferior vachines in favour of pure-blood vampires, which sounds like an interesting idea until you remember that both of them have worked on behalf of the vachine nation for over a thousand years. You’d have thought they would have come up with a plan a bit sooner right?

Naturally Druss and Sieben Kell and Saark escape certain death (with the intervention of a third party) and settle back into their routine of fighting bad guys, bitching about each other’s faults and walking to the next town. Sometimes the order changes but it’s very much a retread of the first book. Saark keeps up his banter about fine clothes, good food and succulent quims whilst Kell berates him for being a dandy/popinjay/peacock and generally whining about how things were better in the good old days when a man who wore pink shirts would be lynched. The bickering wasn’t all that funny in the first book and repeating the same jokes doesn’t make for any improvement.

Over to the female POV characters. I didn’t have much hope for Nienna and unsurprisingly she is still getting threatened with rape on a regular basis until Kell and Saark finally catch up with her and Myriam. Anukis on the other hand had finally broken free at the end of Kell’s Legend so I was interested to see where that would go. She finds her father only for the git to drug her up to the eyeballs to keep her placid for the summoning ritual. Elsewhere Alloria, having plucked up the courage to return to Falanor alone to find her sons, has to be saved from wolves by Vashell who has decided to try and atone for being an utter dick to Anukis. Female agency – what’s that all about then?

Moving the actual plot in a forwards direction, we discover that the summoning ritual requires three Soul Gems that have been embedded in three Guardian Souls and which only Graal’s twin daughters, the titular Soul Stealers can retrieve. This is all just over-complicating the plot for the sake of it. The origin of the Soul Gems nor the reason they have to be carried by people is never explained, nor is the fact that the Soul Stealers are mentioned in the ancient vachine holy book, the Oak Testament, in spite of the fact that the book precedes the birth of the Soul Stealers. The pair are by and large absent from the proceedings, which makes a mockery of the title, and yet are built up as this unstoppable force that Kell cannot stop, so of course magic is pulled out of Remic’s hat when Kell has to take them down.

I wasn’t going to bother quoting any of the book but this classic moment has to be read to be believed:

They stopped, snarling and drooling, and spread out, circling the donkey, great paws padding and claws drawing sparks from the hard ground, eyes fixed, travelling in lazy pendulous sweeps. Mary eeyored in panic, eyes wide, ears laid back on her terrified skull. Saark found his heart in his mouth, terror running through his veins.
“No,” he muttered, gripping his rapier as Mary hunkered down in terror, bunching her hind quarters to do the only thing she know how; to kick.
“Not the donkey,” wailed Saark.” (p251)

Saark, nobleman, unrepentant womaniser and expert swordsman expresses abject misery at the thought of his donkey being killed by cankers. Words cannot describe the epic fail here. Even if this was being played for comedy it would have been shit but I get the impression that Remic was being completely serious here. I came close to throwing in the towel here folks.

To top it all off, there’s a plot twist that is surely worthy of the TV Tropes shocking swerve page. Alloria, Queen of Falanor, was a vachine all along and she was the one who planted the third Soul Gem in Saark! This means Remic can say “Hah! She didn’t really get raped in the first book by Graal, she was just pretending so ner to all those people who called me a dirty misogynist”. Yah, well, that might have worked with some more foreshadowing, a plausible reason for why two of the best vachines ever (Vashell and Anukis) didn’t notice a fellow vachine in their midst and last of all if Remic had managed to pull it off without flatly contradicting *all* of Alloria’s POV narration. Did everyone who gave this book a positive review think that this twist was acceptable? There’s a difference between switching your brain off for the lol-worthy MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) and being tolerant of the author slapping you in the face with his wang exclaiming “Hah! Bet you didn’t see that one coming!”.

It’s probably a good thing that I was reading this on a Kindle as that is precisely the kind of shit that results in defenestrated books. The book ends on another cliffhanger as the summoning ritual is completed and Kell, Saark, Nienna and Saark jump down a hole into the heart of the Black Pike mountains. Vampire Warlords is up next and then I’m going to be in need of a double eye transplant. Remember readers, I’m doing this so you don’t have to.


1Incidentally, how would an essentially medieval society be able to diagnose internal tumours without using magic? Note that magic throughout the series is always of the evil/black kind, such as Kell’s blood-bond with Ilanna. There is no indication of good/white magic at all.

2 Characters do not merely run along walkways, they hammer down flexing planks, swords slam up or across, axes sing, arrows flash, Kell growls

3 Mainly halls as it goes: the Golden Halls, the Halls of Bone, the Chaos Halls, the Hall of Heroes and the Halls of Shit Prose

4 Evidently Remic’s thesaurus is missing the word “fop”

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: Welcome to the Abyss of Inconsistency and Imagination Failure: Vampire Warlords by Andy Remic (Angry Robot, 2011) | Spin Resonance
  2. Pingback: Roil by Trent Jamieson (Angry Robot, 2011) | Spin Resonance

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