Rating: 4.25 stars
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The year is 2141—65 years after the world as we know it has ended. A combination of tragedies, caused and/or exacerbated by the ravages on the world’s environment and resources from climate change, left the scorching surface barren and uninhabitable, and forced the remaining American Empire humans to survive in several underground civilizations (arks) across the country. Emrys and nine other Darisami (preternatural beings who harvest human souls to survive), infiltrated the Endurance ark and guided the humans’ survival through the tenets of “Order. Restraint. Survival”—until an inhabitant’s unseen madness leads to an explosion of violence, upheaval, and catastrophic loss of life.
Emrys, along with fellow Darisami, Nimue, is sent out to see if the world is still a parched wasteland and find other habitable arks. When they reach the ark ,Providence, it seems to live up to its name—appearing as a flourishing civilization free of other Darisami. To secure their place, Emrys offers his services as an assassin to help the council maintain order. Unfortunately, Emrys soon finds that all is not well, and he is quickly trapped in power games between factions, with the only Providence resident concerned for Emrys’s welfare being Galen, a soldier and son of a faction leader. Caught up in Providence intrigue, the desires of the Darisami, and his own complicated need to feed, Emrys doesn’t want his heart ensnared by Galen as well. However, he soon finds himself experiencing hope for the first time in centuries—a feeling that may be fleeting when his needs, political unrest, the Darisami, and Galen’s own fear of the killer Emrys is, conspire against him and any semblance of peace.
Soul Survivor is a really good story about the strain and psychological costs of survival and isolation, the difference between surviving and living, and how devastation and loss, even on the largest scale imaginable, cannot seem to repress or curb the same dangerous traits that led to destruction in the first place. The world building is well done and effectively incorporated into the story without requiring large info dumps or awkward conversations used solely for expositional purposes. There aren’t any specifics about from where or how the Darisami came to be or what happened at the very end to cause the panicked retreat underground, or the timespan for the foreseen “last days” that allowed for the planning and building of multiple underground cities that area also equipped with useable, seemingly unending sources of electricity, running water, air, interconnected database, and communication capabilities, etc. However, there is enough history and information given to create the post-apocalyptic environment and make the Darisami knowable and accessible.
Generally, the majority of the characters are complex, flawed, and relatable, even in some of their worst moments. The story is told in the 3rd person limited POV focusing on Emrys, so his character and background is the most filled in. Having first been seduced then turned into a soul eater by a male Darisami who Emrys blames for his daughter’s death, Emrys has spent almost five centuries cloaked in guilt and self-loathing, finding only sharp-edged solace in the form of hunting the worst of his kind, and in the enigmatic Nimue, who reminds him of his daughter. Being attracted to Galen makes Emrys wary, a wariness Galen shares as he is one of the few people who know Emrys is an assassin; moreover, even though he is a soldier, Galen has never had to take a life and is kind and cautious by nature.
Their relationship is a slow burn of intense glances and difficult conversations for 2/3 of the story, until they decide to take what they can get when the underlying conflicts in Providence start to come to a head. With Soul Survivor being a series opener, the majority of the story is focused on creating the world and environments, i.e. the different political machinations and intrigues among the Darisami and Providence council leaders and Emrys’s tenuous position. Moreover, Emrys time in Providence only spans a couple of weeks, weeks in which Emrys and Galen are constantly being watched and sometimes are at odds, so the late development of a romantic aspect to their relationship as well as their tentative bond works.
I won’t say much about the plot or characters as, for me, part of my enjoyment came from learning about the Darisami and their capabilities, as well as seeing how certain characters’ actions, motivations, and choices played out. The only sticking point for me are the few instances of inconsistency in established character traits and/or actions. There are times when Emrys seems a bit too naïve or blindsided given how long he’s watched and navigated the Darisami factions in Endurance, particularly after establishing his own savvy with his very keen and insightful observations. Or, for example, when Emrys expresses concern for character X finding out about them, Galen assures him that X will see their relationship as extra assurance of Emrys’s loyalty…only at their next meeting to tell Emrys that X is now distrustful of Galen because he spent so much time with Emrys without finding out about Y. Why Galen doesn’t say use the opportunity to reconfirm Emrys’s loyalty and tell X they were busy, *wink wink* feels manufactured to motivate the next series of stressors.
But things like that are a pet-peeve of mine that may not distract others as much, and overall, Soul Survivor is a well-written story whose preter/supernatural beings still manage to feel grounded and real in this very human story of the cycles of destruction. I can’t wait to read the next one.