Title: The Soulstealers
Author: Jacqueline Rohrbach
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 365 pages
Publisher: NineStar Press
Publish Date: April 1, 2019
Slavery, Death/Execution, Violence,
Misogyny, Family Abuse
Black, Lesbian, Bisexual
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to BookSirens and NineStar Press for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
Ugh thank you so much to BookSirens for not kicking me off their site for taking so darn long with my reviews! I’m so glad that I finally pushed this up on my list and ended up finishing it when I intended to, and now I can finally freaking talk about this! Stay tuned, fam.
- This cover is literally giving me life. She reminds me of some sort of African Warrior Queen like please give me all of that.
- Black magic user that isn’t a slave. I feel ya, I feel ya.
- Oh wait what? Her magic is corrupted? Of course it is.
- Why can’t black girls have anything good without strings attached?
Misogyny is STRONG in this world.
Okay for one, Arnaka’s brother is a freaking asshole. I don’t usually like to swear in my reviews, but that is freaking nice of me to say about him. Like… wow. Almost everything that came out of his mouth was abusive and just cruel and I don’t understand how Grieta or her husband – who is never mentioned so maybe he died? I don’t know – allowed him to even be raised like that. Although looking at the majority of the males in this book, this seems to be the damn norm. Just, just look at this, okay?
“It’s just… it’s just you should be honored someone like me would consider you worthy. You don’t even have a name. That’s how unimportant you are.”Escan to Hannah (Girl)
Oh my gosh, do you know how badly I wanted to beat the crap out of this dude when he said this? And this was after he tried to tell Hannah that he loved her, you know, after he slapped her across the face. Because love means getting beaten at like 8 years old or however young these kids were, right?
Oh man this pissed me off okay.
I honestly could not highlight every part where Escan or any other dudes were being misogynistic or I would have highlighted maybe a third of the book. And these women are supposed to take that? Hell to the naw.
Slavery and the Erasing of Identity
The “Soulkeepers” even though they were really Soulstealers like the title says, would have someone killed in order to be their soul familiar and provide a source for the magic that they would use. Arnaka’s soul familiar is Hannah, who actually was only referred to by Girl by those that weren’t her family, because she wasn’t allowed to have a name. It’s like they do this to erase their identity before they can even grow up to have one. I don’t remember when Hannah was executed to give Arnaka her powers, but it wasn’t old enough for her to have actually had a life to live. The druids are in power in this world – surprisingly most of the druids are black or POC coded – and those that don’t have power and are forced into indentured servitude or live in the Below where the sun literally can’t shine are mostly white. Very interesting this shift in dynamics, and such a parallel to what’s happening in today’s political climate. I feel like it’s also interesting to note that Arnaka is supposed to accept that she’s at fault for what her ancestors did many years ago, and even when she didn’t realize what they did until much later, they still hated her and called her corrupted and expected her to be submissive about their feelings.
Not sure how I feel about that honestly, when she was the one that actually took steps TO change the system rather than just accept it and say she can’t do anything about it.
I feel like Arnaka had the most to learn from since she basically “fell from grace” from her castle in the sky to find out the truth about her people and where their magic came from. Sure, she learned when she was younger that her friend was going to be sacrificed in order to provide her a source of magic, but that’s how she thought it always was. Then she finds out the truth and wants to change it, not only because she made a promise to her friend, but because she doesn’t want more people to have to die in order for others to be powerful. It’s not right, and she learns that. She learns how to let others lead for once, especially when they may be in a better position to be in charge than her. I won’t say she learned how to be humble though, because I don’t think she was ever really “cocky.” She spoke fact, and people just assumed she was being cocky because she was right. Everyone else was okay I guess. I think Tamlin had to learn how to stop hating Arnaka for what her people did, and separate the two especially when Arnaka was trying to learn how to do a completely different kind of magic that wouldn’t use up Hannah’s soul.
Well I mean I was definitely angry while reading this because of Escan – even though I wouldn’t call him a main character by any means. But he made me angry enough that I was wondering if I was going to get through this book. I was also really sad for Arnaka because it seemed like nobody would actually educate her on why what she was doing could be offensive or hurtful to Hannah and her family. Instead they just treated her like crap behind Grieta’s back, so they wouldn’t get punished for it, but told a child that they hate her. Like, this girl is already not loved by her own mother or brother, and you’re going to make her feel even less loved as a person as a total damn stranger? How rude.
The prose was okay, although I noticed I had to look up more words than usual. Hey, at least I was constantly learning something. The pacing in the first part of the novel, when it would shift from the present to the past over and over was okay. I liked seeing the backstory of Arnaka and Hannah as children, although sometimes I felt like it could have been avoided or moved to another spot. Sometimes it felt like it didn’t flow as much. After that part when Arnaka and Nara were in the Below, the pacing got better and I was able to follow the story better.
I’m still feeling a little empty inside? Like I know this is a standalone and it definitely ended as a standalone, but I feel like something is missing. There are the fates of certain characters that were a little too up in the air for me, and I wanted some closure for that. I will also say that the final chapter seemed to have taken place a few weeks or at least sometime well in the future rather than directly after the final battle, if that makes sense. But there was no indication as to how long time passed between the two chapters. So that was a little weird but not enough to change my rating for it.
I personally really wish that black girls could just stop going through some familial abuse in books and don’t have to overcome trauma in order to realize just how bad ass they are. That’s all. It hurts, you know? Not all black girls have to go through shit in order to realize our worth.
I was really looking forward to seeing a black girl MC in a bad ass role, and I got some of that. I won’t deny that, but the abuse that she went through from her family and strangers that didn’t even want to listen to the fact that she was going against everything she knew and learned to do better in life, just bothered me. I also was a little upset with how much misogyny this world ended up having, even though in this world the magic goes through the female bloodline. In the end, and the author even said this in the novel, women are just glorified slaves. Either they bear magical children or are forced into servitude. That’s really it. I need more novels that don’t put women in this situation as a default, and then have a character try to change this in one novel, you know?
But other than that, this was an interesting first novel that I read from Rohrbach, and I ended up learning about a new publishing company that I never knew about that focuses on LGBT stories, which is who published this novel. Arnaka was bisexual if I read it correctly, and I thought it was so cool that it was never questioned by anyone, you know?