Singer of souls

Singer of souls / Adam Stemple

And now, back to urban fantasy, but first an administrative note:

It’s probably going to be at least two weeks until I have access to a computer again. As a result I may be deviating from my normal schedule somewhat and the reviews will be a little more bare bones for a while.

Back to the book.

Singer of souls is an urban fantasy novel in the “music has magical powers” and faerie subgenres. Stemple is the son of famed author Jane Yolen, and her influence is definitely visible. Still, I have some serious problems with this book that make it very hard to recommend.

Plot summary

Douglas is a street musician and recovering drug addict. In an attempt to leave his old life behind, he moves to Edinburgh to live with his grandmother. 

Told he must support himself, Douglas distinguishes himself as a busker by creating songs that tell the life stories of whomever is willing to pay. Faeries get involved.

So how is it?

It starts out great but the ending is horrifying. 

Singer of souls does a good job of portraying Douglas as a flawed person sincerely trying to better himself but who struggles with temptation. The famously amoral sidhe are portrayed convincingly, and even the Seelie come across as far more dangerous than in most modern novels.

It was initially a book I was happy to recommend, but there’s a sudden shift towards the end where the book turns grotesquely violent and then Douglas makes a discovery and the whole thing jumps the rails and it becomes a really disturbing story about the depths of human cruelty. 

It’s not just that the tone shifts, the characterization takes a drastic turn and suddenly characters are acting completely differently for no real reason.

I’m guessing that it’s Stemple’s attempt to write a cautionary tale about the abuse of power, or its corruptin nature, but it’s not handled well. If the transition was more gradual (which would require a much longer book, this one is really short) it might work but as published the ending made me feel literally ill.

By the end of the novel, there are no even remotely sympathetic characters left. I’m not going to put it in the “terrible books” category in deference to how good the beginning is, but it’s only a whisper from there.


Only read the first 150 pages or so.

The content at the end (including torture and sexual servitude) is going to be a major stumbling block here.

Good for angsty teens looking for something with shock value, or for those with stron stomaches who don’t mind a drastic change in tone.

Alternative recommendations:

Rosemary an rue / Séanan McGuire

War for the oaks / Emma Bull – the gold standard for musician meets the fae novels. It turns out Bull was in a band with Stemple so interpret that however you like.

Thomas the rhymer – just because. Does the whole dark faerie tale thing ifinitely better.

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