A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

13 Oct 2015 by

A Crucible of Souls, a driven epic fantasy novel, has all the delicious meat of a Wheel of Time book without any of the fatty repetition.

A Crucible of Souls book coverSynopsis

Caldan has regrettably been picked on by the wealthier students at the monastery on Eremite in which he’s grown up since his parents and sibling died in a horrendous fire. The monks took pity on him; the students didn’t. When one boy gets very angry that Caldan was seen conversing with the boy’s sister, a duel is scheduled. Something horrible happens, though, and Caldan is ejected from the comforting place he’s lived all these years.

After a quick trip over the Emerald Sea on the Loretta with Captain Charlotte and enigmatic Miranda, Caldan arrives at his destination. Anasoma, dock-side city of the Mahruse Empire, is Caldan’s next home. He’s ill prepared for the journey without references, with little money, and with a lot of ignorance about the realities of city life. Thrown into it, he’s got to procure a place to live and steady employment. He has one thing that most others don’t – a whole wealth of trouble attached to mysterious heirlooms handed over to him by the monks just before he left.

The Nitty Gritty [Review]

A Crucible of Souls is a coming-of-age story about the Conveniently an Orphan character Caldan who answers a Call to Adventure. It is written in the style of Robert Jordan, J. R. R. Tolkein, or George R. R. Martin. While the main story is about protagonist Caldan and his growth, the story is also told from the points of view of characters who eventually come into contact with Caldan; he is the lodestone. Themes are those common to epic fantasy to include an ignorant child coming to terms with the harsh world, budding romance, youth development, injustice, mind control/determining when someone is responsible for their actions, and also there are a lot of characters wrestling with moral questions and grey areas.

The characters in this novel have unique voices, varied morals and beliefs, and both strengths and weaknesses.  Caldan is largely unaware of his own strength and power, he is humble, and he is moderately generous and thoughtful to those around him. He seems to be an all around good guy, although very naive. His thought patterns and actions are true to his character. Caitlyn is an agent of the empire who seeks out evil, yet she seems to do more evil than good. Aidan, her second, has allowed her to perpetuate evil even as he has reservations. Elpidia seems good of heart… but is she? I’ll be discussing the characters more in a separate post because I enjoyed them that much.

The plot of the novel zigzags around through the different voices of the characters, so at times it is puzzling and disparate. However, by the end the different story lines are woven together. Stick with it, I think it’ll be worth it – largely because there is an enormous amount of secrecy that is being revealed a little at a time. Who is Miranda? Cousin to the Captain Charlotte, supposed daughter of a prostitute, yet Charlotte says she has enough ducats to never need to work again which is in contrast to what we hear later in the story, and she makes a slip and says something about “when she’s in port” rather than when she has  shore leave. These intriguing, minute clues are peppered throughout and leave me craving the series. Other than Hogan’s ability to write a compelling mystery within an epic fantasy (in which his skill is immense), the plot isn’t really innovative. It is, however, complex without being convoluted. It’s interesting. I’ll probably be discussing the plot in a separate post because I enjoyed it that much… too.

Crucible of Souls - Mahruse Empire Map

Designed by Maxime Plasse.

The world. Gosh. What can I say about the world. It’s beautiful. Hogan has an incredible ability to describe the setting with precise words so that we don’t get the braid-tugging of Jordan, but still get the immersion. We have distinct settings within the Mahruse Empire and hints of other lands as well.

Caldan walked up the final flight of stairs and along the corridor that led to the crafting chambers. Dim light from dusty whale-oil lamps lit the way. Crafted sorcerous globes would have provided a constant light source, but they were expensive, and the monks frowned on excess. p. 25

The time period is common to epic fantasy. The magic system is really interesting. I came across a tweet from Elizabeth Fitzgerald discussing it, and immediately agreed with her. The sorcerers in the novel use constructive sorcery and craft with paper, wood, or heavier materials and imbue the material through the use of runes and designs with whatever their spell is. Caldan folds and imbues paper most commonly.

One of my favorite parts of the story is probably the most base. Hogan mentions bodily functions throughout the novel, adding realism without being crass. Miranda points out the crapper on the Loretta during her tour, Caldan has to take a shower, and Miranda points out that he smells on a different occasion. I appreciate the naturalness.

I could go on and on about this book (which is why I think I’m going to delve deeper into it in separate posts), but I suppose I need to wrap up the review for those of you who’ve made it this far… Onwards to the takeaway.

The Takeaway

A Crucible of Souls isn’t perfect, but it comes close. It’s interesting, complex, and has mystery. The world shows a lot of promise and I think the series is going to be a runaway hit. Stop reading this and go buy it already.


A Crucible of Souls
Sorcery Ascendant Sequence: Book One
by Mitchell Hogan

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published August 24, 2015 Pages: 512
Review Source: free review copy from Harper Voyager US Review Format: paperback
ISBN: 978-0-06-240724-5 Finished on September 21, 2015

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