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  • Jo-Anne Blanco

Book Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

***** 5 stars

A powerful, mystical journey into a perilous world of gods and magic

“Why doesn’t magic come to me, Father?”

Sixteen-year-old Arrah has been waiting her whole life for magic to be bestowed upon her. Granddaughter of a great witchdoctor and daughter of the Ka-Priestess of the Almighty Kingdom, she feels the weight of the extraordinary legacy she must live up to, but is forced to watch helplessly as other children younger than her are blessed with the gift while she is passed over. Yet Arrah is gifted in other ways – with intelligence, wit, the ability to see and to feel magic, and a fervent loyalty to her friends which inspires from them fierce loyalty in return.

“Magic has a price if you’re willing to pay.”

Haunted by strange dreams and her grandmother’s visions of demons long believed gone, Arrah seeks answers from the orishas and seers of the Temple. But when tragedy strikes her city of Tamar, the “girl without magic”, who wants so much to help others, makes a fateful decision that will take her down the darkest and most dangerous of paths to sorcery, suffering and sacrifice. Be careful what you wish for …

A beautifully written, enthralling epic fantasy set in a fictional West African kingdom of myth and magic, Kingdom of Souls weaves a rich tapestry with vibrant threads of genuine folklore, creating a substantive, complex, yet recognisable world of ancient pantheons, beliefs and cultures. It has to be said that at times the book goes to some seriously dark places, though this reviewer would argue that this is one of the elements which makes the story so memorable and compelling. It has the courage of its convictions, and is unafraid to venture into the human heart of darkness and misuse of magic. Blood rituals, child sacrifice, mind violation and familial abuse all play integral parts in the story – and certain relatives of Arrah are truly the stuff of nightmares.

However, amidst the darkness shine all-important rays of light and hope. Arrah’s relationship with her adored and adoring father is superbly evoked: she is never happier than when listening to his stories, helping him in his shop or learning herb lore from him. Her friendships and blossoming romance with the charming and gorgeous Vizier’s son are heartwarming, tinged with welcome affection and humour. And Arrah herself, telling her story in the first person, draws the reader in with the power of her personality, her sympathy, and her empathy for others. We feel everything with Arrah; we share her frustrations, her failures, her fear, her fury, and her helplessness at the inexorable turn of events.

With incendiary revelations at the end, which are hinted at and gradually unravelled throughout, one gets the feeling that, despite the richness and depth of Kingdom of Souls, the story is only just beginning. Highly recommended, with a caveat regarding some of the darker aspects of the book.

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