Kingdom of Souls

Kingdom of Souls
Rena Barron
Published date

‘Kingdom of Souls’ is the first YA Fantasy novel by Rena Barron. And what a fantastic debut it is! I requested the ARC of this book from NetGalley because I was intrigued by a story about witchdoctor. That’s not a popular theme for fantasy books, it made this one stands out from the very beginning.

Arrah is born to a family of powerful witchdoctors. Her parents and her grandmother are the most magickly gifted people in all tribes. But so far, all she can do is seeing traces of magic in the air, but she can’t command it. And with every year she becomes more desperate, because being gifted with power after your seventeenth birthday was unheard of. Her mother doesn’t even try to hide her disappointment. There is some other way to gain the magic Arrah desperately seek, but it’s coming with a great prize – one’s own life. But can she resist this chance, while the children in her city are disappearing without a trace and no one is doing anything about it?

The book is starting with a young girl longing to belong. She is treated like an outcast because she can’t command magic, while most people from tribes can learn from a very early age. Her mother, a powerful High Priestess also not helping, treating her daughter like she’s just another girl, not her own child. I thought the book will be about her struggles and how she finally turns to the temptation of generally despised blood magic. But this book is so much more! Very soon, Arrah uncovers the dangerous plot, and the book turns very dark. And when I say dark, I mean demons are eating souls, mind-controlling curses are cast and betrayals waiting in every corner.

‘Kingdom of Souls’ is not another cheery YA fantasy book. In most of the novel, the most dominant feelings are despair and helplessness. Even when Arrah manages to make an earthshattering discovery, she can’t do anything about it. And just when you think, that situation can’t get any worse, it does. And then again, and again, until the point that every effort seems futile and doom becomes inevitable. I’ve heard that for some people it was a bit too much, but for me it was captivating. When I wasn’t reading it, I was continually thinking about how this story would end and if it possible to our main character to survive.

I loved the world the author painted. The tribes with their strange magic, commanding different aspects, praising ancestors, dark rituals, lively festivities, orishas walking among the mortals… it’s a lot! I’m glad this is the first book in the series because we will see more of this amazing place and learn more about its history and people.

I also liked the characters, most of them were very complex. There were no good or bad people there, everyone had their share of morally disputed deeds, even people who you would never suspect of any wrongdoings. There is also romance here, and to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Finally, it was not a love from the first sight trope so popular in YA books.

I enjoyed reading this book immensely, and it was one of the best debut YA Fantasy I have read recently. It’s very original, and the story is captivating. If you are not fazed by very dark and sometimes brutal plot twists, you’ll love this book as much as I did!