Feast of Souls by Celia S Friedman

Feast of Souls is the first in a dark fantasy series of books called The Master Trilogy and written by Celia S Friedman.  This is my first reading of any novel written by CSF and as such I am submitting it for my Worlds Without End, Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, Details here, which involves reading 12 new-to-me female authors.

I really enjoyed this story I must admit.  I liked the author’s style of writing and whilst the story isn’t particularly hugely out of character with other fantasy stories or totally unique it was compelling and the author, for me, had a captivating style.

The story basically consists of a strong willed woman, determined against all odds to succeed where others have failed.  A man, a prince, dying from a terrible wasting disease, who goes on a quest in search of answers and in between both of these we have a strange and dark force that is about to be unleashed upon the world, a mad, blood thirsty king who will go to any length to conquer and his queen – a gentle woman born of a race of people granted innate powers to protect the world in it’s greatest need.

At the start of the novel we are given a short introduction to a witch who is dying at a fairly young age.  From this we learn that in order to weave magic a witch must use up her own soul’s power and in doing so she uses up this source more swiftly than the average person and thus die prematurely.  The world created by Friedman contains a lot of magic, some of it borne by witches and the remainder by sorcerers or magisters as they are called here.  The difference between the two is the source which fuels their magic and the lengths they are willing to go in order to become powerful or successful.  I thought the whole concept here was really quite intriguing whilst being also somewhat horrible at the same time.  We have the females who find themselves in control of great power but can only use this at the expense of their own life.  They therefore learn to become very careful with how they expend that power and usually reserve it for curing life threatening illness.  We then have the magisters who seem to have a never ending supply of power which comes at no cost to themselves therefore small wonder that they don’t mind undertaking the most uncalled for magic – such as simply altering their appearance for the sake of vanity.  The magisters are proud and cold and very rarely work together but as the full extent of the evil that is about to be released is revealed that is something that is about to change.  Man, witch and magister will have to work together if they are to survive.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the world building.  It certainly isn’t a fast paced book so if you’re expecting dramatic battles and suchlike then you best look elsewhere.  The author enjoys creating a world full of political machinations and manoeuvring by some of the inhabitants in order to gain power.  There are multiple points of view used in order to gain a fuller understanding, an approach that I usually enjoy and think is difficult to accomplish and on top of that the author adopts a few different methods in order to bring us up to speed with past history, such as flashbacks and even old fashioned story telling.  None of which feel like they bog down the story or lose the main thread.

There are a number of different characters to become familiar with.  Kamala is a young witch with great ambition and determination.  Her childhood years are a thing of brutality that have shaped her character.  She has a wall built around her that can’t be penetrated.  Basically she’s a flawed character.  She’s no hero of the tale.  She wants to live in a man’s world and she isn’t afraid to make difficult choices in order to do so.  We know that she will do what she needs to in order to survive and this is why she is able to become a magister – the first female ever to do so in fact.   Prince Andovan is almost the opposite.  In spite of his privileged upbringing he has a sympathetic character and regardless of his own infirmity tries to help others.  I suppose you could say it’s a bit of an obvious role reversal that’s been employed here but I thought it was a good idea.  It’s not after all as though all men are exactly the same and neither is it the case for women so having a sympathetic male character and a selfish and flawed female character isn’t unbelievable.  The other most notable characters are Colivar and Ramirus.  I haven’t totally made up my mind about these two yet as although the magisters seem to be a cold and haughty type Ramirus shows a certain dedication to the King and his family and Colivar also seems to be taking a fairly active part in thwarting the threat that has been newly discovered – although this could obviously also just be self serving.  There are plenty of other characters but I won’t elaborate further.

I thought the author also did an excellent job with the ending.  Don’t get me wrong, she’s not afraid to kill off characters and being a bit of a softie I’d usually prefer the people I’m reading about to stay alive but I liked the way that the ending doesn’t conform to what you want or, more to the point, expect.  I admit that all the way through I was trying to second guess how the author would manage to achieve the ending I wanted against the ending that I thought was inevitable and against all expectations she didn’t even try.  At the back of my mind I knew what the ending should be, I was desperately struggling to come up with creative ways for the author to not have that ending and yet, at the end of the day, the end was how it should be in order to maintain integrity.  I like the way she stuck to her guns and didn’t come up with some exception to the rule to bends things.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the characters need more developing and the reason I say this is I’m not sure, even at this point, how I feel about them.  Also, I couldn’t help comparing certain elements of the story to GRR Martin but given the setting and story type that’s probably inevitable.  I also couldn’t help wondering about the magisters and why, if they’re so powerful, they even bother with the subterfuge of working for others?  Although I think this is all part of their secretive and mysterious nature and working for others lends them a certain sort of normalcy in order that they’re not too closely scrutinised.  I also couldn’t help but question why they couldn’t switch their sources – I’m trying not to give away spoilers here so you’ll have to bear with me!

On the whole I thought this was a very enjoyable novel and I can’t wait to read the next in the series.

Next month’s new author for me will be Teresa Frohock – Miserere.

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16 Responses to “Feast of Souls by Celia S Friedman”

  1. LisaC

    I found the lack of a character who was at least slightly sympathetic too much to overcome. That people die for others to use magic was interesting, but really repelled me by the end of the book.

    • lynnsbooks

      Hi Lisa
      I totally relate to what you say to be honest. Andovan was sympathetic but… the two magisters I haven’t totally made my mind up about yet. I quite liked Gwynofar but she wasn’t really playing a major role. It will be interesting to see what develops in the next books given the loss of certain characters already and the fact that I’m not totally enamoured with the remaining ones. I’m hoping that adversity will bring out their better nature but maybe they don’t have such a thing! I did enjoy the book. I think the author narrates really well but it is difficult when you don’t feel a real connection to at least one of the characters. Plus, I know what you mean about the magic – I so wanted it to change and one of my main concerns was, as this is such a parasitic type of magic I wondered why it had to centre on one character and maybe not swap hosts??
      Have you read the next books?
      Lynn 😀

  2. Carl V. Anderson

    I am going to be reading CS Friedman for the first time for the WWE challenge too. I have long wanted to read This Alien Shore because of Michael Whelan’s great cover image and so I finally ordered a copy just before the end of last year. It is sitting patiently on my bedside table waiting. It is a chunkster and I’m trying to get through a few more chunksters before diving into it. I am anticipating great things.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one despite having some criticisms. It is the mark of a good writer who can do that, in my opinion. Her books always look very intriguing on the shelf and it is nice to see others reading her work too as she is someone I don’t generally see reviewed online and honestly know very little about her. I only recently bothered to look to see what “C.S.” stood for. 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      I know – to be honest I admit that I thought CS Friedman was a male author – and I have no idea why I thought that so it was a surprise when I saw the name on the WWE challenge site! This topic was recently discussed over at Dark Cargo and it seems the use of initials seems to be adopted by a few female authors for whatever reason.
      I really did enjoy this book – I think the magic system has been really well thought out, that’s not to say that I didn’t have a few ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ but on the whole I was really pleased I picked this one – although it doesn’t seem to be generally her best thought. I will definitely continue with the series.
      Chunksters sort of put me off a little bit these days – which is silly really – but they do tend to get left on my shelf a little longer. Well, probably not the next Lynch or Rothfuss novels – I’ll even take time off work to read those in one huge sitting!
      Lynn 😀

      • Carl V. Anderson

        Hey, I have the same chunkster aversion. I have several of them on my shelves that are most likely great but I have a hard time wanting to pick them up. I actually have two Friedman SF books and they are both very thick! 🙂

    • Eliz Campbell

      ::jumps up and down!:: This Alien Shore! this Alien Shore! read it! Read it! Rah-rah! My fave! Oh god I could just die with fan-girl lame-itude. Yes, it wonderful.

      Don’t read the ebook version. 😉

  3. TBM

    Interesting that you aren’t sure how you feel about the characters. I wonder if that will change over the next two books and if that was intentional by the author.

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s a tricky one with these characters and I think you’re probably right – it probably is the author’s intention. The magisters are basically a heartless bunch but I can see that a couple of them are going to try to resolve the coming conflict – which is something, although, like I said, it’s probably just self serving.
      Then the author seems to be doing this whole role reversal thing with the boy and girl which is interesting. I did really enjoy this though. I thought the world building was good and the magic well thought out. I will definitely carry on with this.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Grace

    I enjoyed this series a lot. Kamala grew on me after a while, even though in the first book she seems a bit heartless. I love the idea that magic has to have a price and the way that it obeys certain rules.

    • lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I think the magic system is really well thought out. I was only thinking about it the other day and wondering how she came up with the idea and more to the point the difference between witches and magisters. Kamala definitely seems very cold at this point but I figure she’s had a tough life so she’s built herself a wall. I’m looking forward to reading the next book and thankfully no long wait!
      Lynn 😀

      • Grace

        When I read the series, the first two books were out, but then I had to wait a while for the third. It’s the kind of series though where there aren’t really good guys and bad guys–each character has his or her own motivations, but none of them are purely good or evil. They’ve just been shaped into who they are by different circumstances, and their self interest tends to put them at odds with one another.

        Glad to see that more people are discovering the series!

      • lynnsbooks

        Actually, that’s a really good point that I hadn’t really considered but now you mention it everybody was looking after their own interests – except maybe The Queen? I think she’s the only one who seemed to be thinking of others.
        Lynn 😀

  5. Eliz Campbell

    Yeah! I’m working through C.S. Friedman now. She’s wonderful. And I love that her books are enormous. Bring a toothbrush, you’ll be staying a while!

    I haven’t read the Magisters yet.

    • lynnsbooks

      Well, this was my first but it won’t be my last – I have the rest of the Magisters to read yet of course!
      Lynn 😀

  6. Nadine

    Hello Lynn!
    Congratulations on the WWE featured review on their blog. It took me a while to make the connection that this really nice person who’s been commenting on my blog was the same girl that made me want to pick up C.S. Friedman on WWE. 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      Hey Nadine
      That’s how I found your blog – I was reading some of the reviews on there. I love checking out other people’s book lists to see if we have anything in common. There’s quite a lot on your blog that I’ve read so I’ve been stalking your reviews!! Hope you don’t mind and hope you do pick up Friedman. From what I’ve read the Magister series may not be the best of her works but I quite enjoyed it. I thought the system of magic was interesting and unique. I’m enjoying the WWE challenge. I do read quite a lot of female authors so there were a lot on there site that I couldn’t go for. I was making a list though of some of my favourite books recently and I realised that most of them were male authors! That feels so bad. It’s not like I don’t enjoy female writers. So, I definitely need to work on that a bit.
      Lynn 😀

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