Review: KINGDOM OF SOULS by Rena Barron

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 496
Release Date: September 3rd, 2019
Series: KINGDOM OF SOULS, Book 1
Rating: 3/5 Stars – Liked It

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.

39098266Arrah wants one thing above all else in this world: her own magic to call and command.  Descended from two powerful magical bloodlines, Arrah frustratingly has never had manifested the ability to wield magic, despite having the rare gift to see magic in the world. There are other, dangerous ways to summon magic, but Arrah never seriously contemplates them – not until a benign ritual reveals that a demon may be suppressing Arrah’s abilities.   What’s worse, children have been disappearing in Arrah’s hometown, and Arrah’s limited magical sight indicates a neighborhood friend is next on the kidnapper’s list. Desperate to save him, Arrah trades years off her life for the ability to magically search the town for the kidnapper.  What she discovers plunges her into a dark conspiracy of gods and humans, generations in the making – a conspiracy that threatens to release the Demon King from his imprisonment.

KINGDOM OF SOULS is a story with impressive emotional stakes that ultimately trips at the finish line. Although a little slow to start, SOULS took some impressive turns through the mid-part of the book, with twists and reveals that put Arrah through her paces.  She’s a non-magical girl struggling to fight against a magical evil, and the frustration she has at her ineffectiveness, even as she soldiers on to find yet another ploy, is felt. The tale is also bolstered by her complicated relationship with her parents.  While she loves her father whole-heartedly (as he does her), Arrah’s mother considers her lack of magic a disappointment, and the weight of this disappointment is felt throughout the book.  These dynamics are constantly at play throughout the story and are the book’s biggest strength.  I also enjoyed some of the larger stakes introduced, as it becomes clear that the threat to the kingdom was born partly out of bitter fighting happening among the city’s elite.

Where this book struggled was pacing. When Arrah discovers the Demon King’s emissary, they enact a curse that prevents Arrah from acting against them.  Arrah of course struggles against the curse and looks for loopholes that will allow her to thwart the emissary’s plans, but for the most part the emissary is allowed free reign to continue their plot.  While some of this helplessness adds a level of terror to the tone, by making Arrah (and by extension, us) unable to stop the rituals that bring the Demon King one step closer to freedom, it also makes Arrah a somewhat passive character, something that was an increasing drag on the plot as time went on.  For much of the book, she is out of her depth and unable to contend with the forces at play, making this much more about her reactions as she is trapped inside an apocalyptic event she can’t truly affect.

The ending also left something to be desired, as the author suddenly introduced some fairly stale YA tropes that didn’t really seem to serve a purpose than to fuel some angst. Although there was a definite end point we were heading there, the plot kind of meandered it’s way there for the last 75 pages or so.  It certainly felt like the book could have been tighter, without some of the drama introduced at the end.

Overall, I enjoyed the emotional beats of KINGDOM OF SOULS, and I’ve had to leave out some character beats I liked for spoiler reasons (this story certainly takes some turns!). While it was interesting seeing a “chosen one” tale where the heroine is trapped within the evil she is supposed to stop, it did end up stalling out her own agency for a bit too long.  Although a little uneven, it’s worth reading for the character dynamics.  This is a story that lives for the highs and lows of family relationships, and it will carry you through the rough patches all the way to the end.

6 thoughts on “Review: KINGDOM OF SOULS by Rena Barron

Add yours

  1. This story sounds amazing! I have seen in a couple reviews though that readers struggled with the pacing.. I’m still excited to pick it up though!
    Great review!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

    Liked by 1 person

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