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Book Review

Book Cover

Kingdom of Souls (Hardback)


Author: Rena Barron
Publisher: Harper Voyager
424 pages
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 830223 8
Publication Date: 19 September 2019

Arrah is a disappointment to her mother. Born to two strong magic users she continually fails to show any magic ability. There are some glimmerings of something going on with her, something which terrifies her grandmother, something in her future...

Kingdom of Souls (2019. 424 pages) is the first in a new fantasy series, written by Rena Barron.

The story follow Arrah, frustrated Arrah, disappointed Arrah, angry Arrah, the poor girl gets few parts of the book for quite introspection, even though she goes through the book informing the reader of every thought she is having. As you can tell I didn’t particularly get on with the central character, which is a shame as there is an overall interesting plot there.

That said, it does get over the central message that it is not wrong to be different and that you do not need power to enact change. In a young adult series Barron must have felt that this was an important message to get across.

It is not specifically stated where the story takes place, although by the cultural references I take it that we are supposed to presume that it is in a fictional and fictitious part of Africa. If anyone feels a little lost with either the characters or places there is a handy reference web page at

Barron has put a lot of work into her world building. Through the books you get to witness the various tribes that make up the Mighty Kingdom, this is not one homogeneous group, tribes are separated by tradition, if not particularly religion, in the formal sense. Likewise, different tribes engage in differing forms of magic.

In Arrah’s case her tribe knows a form of blood magic which will grant the caster whatever magic they want, including seemingly magicless people like Arrah. Unfortunately, the price is high, in that you have to trade time. The magic may take a little time it may take your whole life and so is very much frowned upon.

This is the basic set up of the story, with Arrah lacking magic, but knowing about the blood ritual. Her father loves her and her mother sees her as a perennial disappointment, Arrah even sees herself as a disappointment. There she would have stayed had not the children of the city start to disappear.

The story really starts to pick up at the point when she discovers who is stealing the children and why. I will not spoil the plot by telling you who it is, but even the book jacket lets you know that there is a plan to release the Demon King who was trapped in a box during the last war between the gods.

All through novel there are little vignettes where the reader touches base with what is happening with the gods. In many ways these are some of the most interesting parts of the novel. One would expect that the gods, those worshipped by Arrah's people, would be portrayed as being on the side of light but this never quite happens. There is a lot of ambiguity in how they are portrayed, enough for the reader to consider that, regardless of what she has been taught, and what she believes, she might just be fighting for the wrong side. I look forward to seeing what Barron will do with this apparent discontinuity between Arrah's beliefs and her potential reality.

So, not a bad fantasy novel. It is essentially the heroes’ journey again, so that part of the structure was less interesting than the introduction to a well-crafted world, with some interesting possibilities going forward.


Charles Packer

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