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The Soul Thief
Cecilia Holland
Forge, 300 pages


Art: Howard Grossman
The Soul Thief
Cecilia Holland
Cecilia Holland was born in 1943. She received a B.A. from Connecticut College. Her novels include The Angel and the Sword (2000), The Belt of Gold (1984), Floating Worlds (1976), Jerusalem (1996), Lily Nevada (1999), An Ordinary Woman (2001), Pillar of the Sky (1985) and Valley of the Kings (1997).

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Corban and Mav are twins, one soul in two bodies. She is the stronger, the favorite child of their unforgiving warrior farmer of a father. When Corban refuses to offer his sword to the High King, his father kicks him out of the house. Mav follows Corban into the forest, and promises to speak to their father when his temper cools. She goes home while her brother sleeps in the woods, her second sight teasing her with images of coming danger. It is not enough to warn her. Vikings come that very night, pillage and burn the homestead, kill the men and children, and take the women for slaves. The women are used by their captors, and the voyage to the market place is a harsh and sorrowful journey.

Corban, the next morning, decides to go back home. He sees smoke on the horizon, and finds everything he has known or loved is lost. He decides to go after Mav who feels him coming after her. She finds the strength to live and is bought by the Lady of Hedeby, a canny woman of great power. Her owner can feel the potential in Mav, and takes care of her. Mav is delirious, her power strengthening into a wild thing that causes her to sing loudly of her brother's doings, but she senses that perhaps the Lady of Hedeby is not all benevolence. Her resolve to keep the baby that the lady would gladly rid her of helps her keep from sinking completely under the Lady's control.

Corban's travels are very interesting. He befriends Grod, a man who is always looking for ways to turn a fast penny with no labor, and leaves Black Pond (or Dubh Linn... Dublin. Isn't that neat?) for Jorvik, and eventually, Hedeby. Along the way he uses his skill with the sling to bring in food, and slowly strengthens, becoming a stronger, better man. When he meets the Lady, she can't figure what to make of him, but continues with her plan to use the link between the twins to spy upon her rivals. Corban is not particularly brilliant, but he changes, reforms into an admirable character. As he journeys, he realizes that he can no longer lie, and solidifies into a being of great calm and quiet. I enjoyed voyaging with him, as he travels the seas and the woods in search of his sister, and himself. The hunting scenes are very well done, and food seems to be one of the main preoccupations of our characters, a thing which makes sense, since food is not easy to come by. The cities are well drawn, in that we can sense the stink and squalor of the time, and sometimes, experience the wonder of it. While everything is very realistically portrayed, magic hangs about the edges. Canny women of power fight for control over kings, and small magics are sometimes found in the simplest things. The people he encounters are complex; the detestable Eelmouth who, just like he would be in real life is not purely evil, and the talented potter Benna, who attracts him.

What I liked best in The Soul Thief is how Cecilia Holland kept the feel of old Viking tales while bending it toward the modern type of story-telling. There is something in the wording, in the feel of the narrative, that just slightly has the touch of the skald's rhythm to it.

The Soul Thief is not purely fantasy, in fact, it could easily go on history buff's book shelves as well. It will, however, appeal to the fantasy reader... it has adventure, quests and a sense of magic.

Copyright © 2002 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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