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by: James Stevens-Arce
Review by: Lee Masterson

Having read several good reviews for this book, I was looking forward to reading Soulsaver. This award-winning novel has received some fairly high accolades, and so my curiosity was piqued.

Set in a dysfunctional religious society, Soulsaver follows young Juan Bautista, a rookie Soulsaver whose job it is to save the souls of the city's suicide victims. His faith is put to the ultimate test when he learns of the existence of an underground sect, who believe that the second coming will be far different from the one the Christians are preaching. He also learns a little about the true nature of the people he has been blindly following his entire life.

Stevens offers readers a frightening view of the future gone wrong. His idea is sound, the writing is professional and the premise is cleverly planned, if overly simplified. Unfortunately, I personally found the book a little difficult to get involved in.

The author has opted to tell Soulsaver in the first person, and has also chosen to relay Juan Bautista's tale in the present tense - both difficult styles to master, and even harder to read. The author's writing style is tight and precise, and there are no visible spelling or grammatical errors (which makes a nice change!), but some of the characterizations and events within the story are underdeveloped.

I found the protagonist's character to be somewhat annoying. Juan Bautista is portrayed as being shallow, self-involved, juvenile and quite mindless, all of which fit the story beautifully. His propensity for using slang terms to describe situations began as a cute insight into his immaturity, but quickly began to grate on my nerves. "Sally Silly" or even "Annie Annoying", as Juan would be attributed to saying.

There does not seem to be a lot of character development outside of the immediate protagonist, which is unfortunate, as there seemed to be plenty of potential for expansion. Each chapter also felt as though it ended too quickly, without reaching any real resolution or setting up any particular reason to turn the page.

Overall I was disappointed with what promised to be an interesting book. There were definitely lost opportunities where the author could have expanded or complicated the plot further. The protagonist did not seem to have altered far from his initial juvenile self, even in the face of dramatic life-changing events (deaths, births, belief-shattering paradoxes). The plot had an oversimplified feel throughout, and the antagonist, only revealed as such toward the end, did not ring true as a rival character.

Because this book was technically well-written, I will rate Soulsaver
* * 1/2

SOULSAVER / Winner of the 1997 UPC Award / New from Harcourt
"Strongly recommended." -- Library Journal
Best First Novel 2000 - Denver Rocky Mountain News
Tops of 2000 - San Francisco Chronicle
New and Notable & Best First Novel - Locus Magazine

Rating Scale:
* * * * * = Un-put-downable, excellent reading!
* * * * = Good value, interesting reading.
* * * = Had potential, but could have been better.
* * = Slow, difficult to read, could have been improved.
* = Imminently forgettable.


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