Last Updated on February 12, 2024
Soulkeeper is the action-packed first volume of David Dalglish’s dark fantasy series, The Keepers.
The novel opens with the reaping hour, a religious rite for the recently deceased, calling upon deities known as the Sisters to release a person’s soul from their body. The ritual is conducted by a warrior-priest known as a Soulkeeper. One of the most interesting aspects of Soulkeeper is the physical manifestation of the souls themselves, glowing orbs that people can witness emerge from a body and ascend toward the heavens.
As the most prominent Soulkeeper of his time, Devin Eveson roams the land offering his services to those in need. Unfortunately, a mysterious plague has created an unprecedented demand for his skills. Although the role of Soulkeeper comprises both religious leader and healer, Devin is also a pistol-wielding fighter extraordinaire who will defend innocent lives through any means necessary.
The plague seems to originate from a mysterious black water that is rising throughout the land, similar to the premise of the “Dark Tide” and “Darker Tide” short stories by Mark Lawrence. This black water in Soulkeeper is accompanied by the return of a host of magical creatures, long forgotten by humankind. Much of Soulkeeper concerns people finding their place in a world where they’ve been suddenly displaced by strange and powerful beings. Some of these creatures are friendly towards people, but many are horrifying, including a mountain-sized dragon and a villain who mutilates humans, turning their bodies into macabre works of art.
Soulkeeper features a great cast of characters, including two of my favorite sidekicks in recent memory: the faery, Tesmarie, and the delightful firekin named Puffy. Puffy is a joy and steals the spotlight whenever he is on the page, communicating through his strokes of flame.
At over 650 pages, Soulkeeper is a chonker of a book, but the pages fly by quickly thanks to David Dalglish’s accessible writing style and fast-moving plot. There are plenty of dark moments in Soulkeeper, but these are balanced by a levitous sense of humor. My grimdark heart would have preferred a more consistently bleak tone to the novel, but I appreciate what Dalglish has done here in trying to balance the darkness with more lighthearted elements. The last third of the novel was the best part of the book, taking a definite turn toward darkness and ending with a big emotional punch.
For me, the emotional impact of Soulkeeper deepened when I read the author’s afterword describing the inspiration for the character Devin, a boy by the same name who frequented the author’s boardgame store and passed away from a rare disease as a college freshman. This background helped me to understand the deeper significance of Devin’s role as Soulkeeper and the design of his character as a clean-cut, do-it-all good guy. David Dalglish has also dedicated the book to Devin, describing him as “a great kid who left us far too soon.”
With Soulkeeper, David Dalglish has created a rich and engrossing new world. Soulkeeper is a consistently entertaining read with just the right level of darkness that would serve as a suitable entry point for readers new to grimdark fantasy but not yet ready to dive into the deep end of the genre.