Last month we were talking about historical fiction in Pandora’s Box, but this month we turn to the realm of fantasy romance. This month we’re doing a Pandora’s Box discussion on Soul of Kandrith, conclusion of the Kandrith duology by Nicole Luiken.
Sara had once been a great lady, daughter of the Primus of the Republic of Temboria. She still has her legendary beauty but lost her soul in an epic battle to save Kandrith, a nation that serves as sanctuary to runaway slaves. Her beloved Lance is a healer of the goddess Loma, a user of the slave magic which demands great personal sacrifice. While he is able to heal any affliction of the body the creation of a soul is beyond his powers. The two are traveling through Kandrith, hoping that familiar places and faces will restore Sara to her former self. However, instead of help they find fear, and in place of friendship they most often encounter hostility. Sara is a frightening shell of the woman she once was, zombie-like in her lack of emotions, but ruthless when it comes to defending herself and Lance. She has also become addicted to pain, since it seems to be the one thing she can feel. Lance’s devotion to the shadow of the woman he once loved concerns his family but there is little they can do to separate them.
When Lance is charged by his sister, the ruler of Kandrith, with a mission to encourage a budding rebellion within the territory of Gotia, it is with the hope that he will leave Sara behind. Instead, the two embark on the dangerous journey together, with uncertainty facing them along every step of the way. Will they be able to perform the mission and gain Sara a soul?
Note: This discussion may contain some slight spoilers.
Louise has spoken with great fondness of Gate to Kandrith, book one in this series so I was anxious to hear how she felt about book two.
Maggie: Did book two meet your expectations?
Louise: Book two met my expectations in some ways, but failed it in others. It met expectations in that, once again, Luiken is a talented writer and her world building is impressive. She created a faux Roman world that she tweaked just enough to make it unique while maintaining the things that would make it familiar and comfortable. The social and political structure of the Roman Empire gave the world a foundation but she created new Gods and Goddesses whose temples served as the landscape. For example, the “inns” were temples of the God of travelers.
What disappointed me were the plot twists that she took. Some of the things she let the Sara-without-a-soul heroine endure were disturbing. And that the hero Lance allowed it… What did you think, Maggie? Did it live up to my hype?
Maggie: This novel, as you said, had excellent world building. However the violence of it disturbed me. And that is saying something coming from a woman who reads George R. R. Martin! There was not just the violence in terms of what happened with heroine Sara but there was tremendous violence in even their most peaceful gods. I did not like the sacrifices that had to be made, most especially in regards to Wenda but even with regards to Lance. Did you feel the violence was escalated in this novel or was that just me?
Louise: One thing I will say about the violence – yes, it was disturbing. But I can’t say that it wasn’t logical. The sacrifices were made for the greater good and as such needed to be “on a grand scale”. Whether it was Lance and his illness, or the making of a new gate, or becoming a shandy. Loosely connected to this idea, one thing I appreciated was a sense of reality. There were few “perfect characters” in this. Most especially Lance’s mother. When the hero loves his mother dearly and she isn’t the villain, she is usually sugary sweet and perfect. In this case, she had quite an edge to her! What did you think about the realism and/or the secondary characters?
Maggie: I preferred the sacrificial magic used in Mercedes Lackey’s Obsidian universe. There solutions outside of magic were always pursued first. I felt that in this universe it seemed as though the people were always reaching for the magic. And that even “peaceful” solutions required death.
I agree with you, though, that everyone seemed very realistic. The characters seemed very human. Most of them had a lot of depth. I also appreciated the variety – it seemed like all the groups had a mix of good and bad, generous and selfish. The villains and heroes came from every nationality. One character that really interested me was Fitch, the rebel leader. He showed that mix of good and bad, moral and amoral and betrayal within loyalty that really highlighted the author’s ability for me to do characters that captured what it means to be human. What did you think of him as a character?
Louise: Fitch didn’t make that big of an impression on me. If anything, I thought his character just “stopped” rather than there being clear closure. It was his brother, Edvard – the cripple that had twice his courage and nobility, that intrigued me much more. Though Luiken’s roots in YA literature came through with the secondary romance of Rhiain and Edvard. At times, it felt a little unbelievable that two characters who had enough hardship to warrant considerable maturity would act so immature. But that was more a minor concern than a flaw! Nir interested me more. At one point, I was a little disturbed at the compelling… Relationship that was growing between him and Sara. There was some semblance of respect between them at one point – more for each other’s mind – but it did come through to me and I didn’t really like it! What did you think of Nir?
Maggie: I was disturbed by him a bit as well because I felt he was the kind of alpha male I could have been drawn to. I found myself wanting to make excuses for what he did and yet knowing there was no excuse for what he did. It was clear he had a very troubled personality. I would love to have known when he went from being a warrior to being a sadist and what had pushed him into that. Was it something intrinsic in him or was it his culture that pushed him over the edge? The horse race between Nir and Sarah was something that did show a near respect between them. While most women to him were just something to use and abuse she was special. Her strength and spirit drew him. Unfortunately, he was so twisted he didn’t know how to handle that attraction.
What made their relationship really interesting was that twenty years ago that might have been our love story. Nir would have been saved by the love of a good woman. I liked this way better. Whatever Nir’s demons were, the love of a woman wasn’t going to make a difference at this point.
How did you feel beta hero Lance contrasted with alpha meanie Nir?
Louise: Maggie, I think you are right on. You articulated what I was seeing and reacting to much better than I did. As for Lance, I had no problem with him in the first book, but in this one, the contrast between him and Nir and the things he let happen to Sara… It was just too much for me. I lost respect for him as a character and that caused me problems for the rest of the book. What about you, Maggie? What did you think?
Maggie: I thought that it was very in keeping with Lance’s belief system for him to allow what happened to Sara to take place. Individual suffering for the good of self or others was the very core of his faith. Even children in their society made sacrifices to the gods. To have denied Sara the chance to pay her own god price for something she felt was needed would have negated her equality and made her somehow less than a child. In that sense I understood why he did not act in such a manner as to save her from her self-inflicted punishment. And it worked, which would have made it tragic for him to intervene.
That said, I certainly didn’t feel the love in this book in terms of romantic relationships. Lance and Sara were separated for a good portion of the novel. The heroine was raped by the villain more often than she was made love to by the hero. And at the end of the book everyone paid tremendous prices to essentially keep the status quo. The end result was that while the world building was fabulous and the individual scenes making up the story interesting, the plot overall really didn’t feel like it reached a climax. Especially for the second book of what is currently considered a two book series. Because of that I come up with a grade of B-. What about you?
Louise: In the end, while I agree with your assessments and reasoning, I would still rate it a little higher – probably a solid B. While I had issues with the story, technically the book was well written and as you said, the things I didn’t like had clear motivations.
– Maggie Boyd and Louise VanderVliet