Monday, September 12, 2016

Singer of Souls is the first novel published by Adam Stemple. The cover has one of those oft seen promo blurbs by a well known author. In this case, Anne McCaffrey, who says, “One of the best first novels I have ever read.” I think that publishers love those things, especially for new authors. Personally I find them at best, next to useless, and at worst misleading.

But not this time.

This time good old Anne* hit it right on the money. Singer of Souls is great. It's not just a great first novel, it's a great novel. It’s urban fantasy of the grunge city, fringe dwelling musicians, and counter culture folks mixed with fairy kind. This is the sort of tale that Charles De Lint does so well. In fact this novel has a similar feel to some of De Lint’s best works without seeming like someone is imitating De Lint. Stemple has a voice all his own.

The jacket cover gives an acceptable introductory summary.

Leaving his life of petty crime and drug abuse behind, young Douglas flees from Minneapolis to Edinburgh, Scotland, to his stern but fairminded Grandma McLaren, who will take him in if he can support himself. Fortunately, few cities are friendlier than Edinburgh to a guitarist with a talent for spontaneous rhyme, and soon Douglas is making a decent living as the busker who can write a song about you on the spot.

But Edinburgh has its dangers for the unwary. The annual arts festival, biggest in Europe, draws all manner of footloose sorts, and tempted by the drugs offered by a mysterious young girl, Douglas stumbles.

What follows isn't what he expects. Suddenly, Douglas can see the fey folk who invisibly share Edinburgh's ancient streets—in all their beauty and terrifying cruelty. Worse, they can see him, and they're determined to draw him into their own internecine wars--wars that are fought to the death.

I will also say that in young Douglas, Stemple provides a believable character who the reader is invited to empathize with while still being aware of the protagonist’s flaws. I’m not naturally sympathetic to drug users and petty criminals, but the author made Douglas sympathetic. Someone you root for and want to see succeed.

I was quickly hooked by the story and stayed up way too late reading. And unlike too many books I’ve read which are great in the buildup, in the end Singer of Souls does disappoint though the ending did surprise.

If you like urban fantasy or folktales in the modern age go find this book and read it. You won’t regret it. I give it five out of four stars.

* I can call her that, because we’ve met and spoken in person. ;-)

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