Souls of the Never by C.J. Rutherford

Souls of the Never by C.J. RutherfordCombining the solid core of fantasy and YA romance tropes with a deft layering of personal touches, Rutherford has created a novel that will appeal to both audiences.

After a tragic childhood, Katheryne longs for a normal university experience: dating, socialising, and potentially even learning. But waking screaming each night from dreams of burning in a lake of fire as a foul creature draws ever closer, both ruin her composure and turn her house-mates away. Ripped from space and time to fight in a war for existence, Derren searches for the saviour whose face fills his dreams. And in the space outside realities, an ancient evil finds a crack in its prison.

Rutherford’s mythology is both interesting and coherent. Starting from the classic fantasy tropes of an enemy banished in the mists of time now returning, and a saviour found in a world without magic, he quickly adds both detail and variety.

As a testament to his skill in revealing the world and plot, the descriptions are integrated into dialogue as plausible responses to events to the extent that examples of Rutherford’s world-building also risk spoiling the mysteries that underlie the story.

While the fantasy side of the book has both a depth that will engage fans of epic fantasy and a focus on a small cast combined with good pacing that will appeal to readers who are not seeking the massive tomes that some epic fantasy become, the romance side of the book is likely to be more polarising.

Delivered in the fevered strains of youth, when everything is of great emotional significance and a glance across a bar is cause for many hours of analysis and discussion with close friends, the trials of possible love stand beside ancient prophecy and magical conspiracy as equals for the reader’s attention.

So – while Rutherford portrays the experience of being still only on the brink of adulthood with as equal skill to the fantasy elements – this novel might not appeal to readers who do not enjoy characters with their emotions turned up to eleven.

When not facing the equal terrors of existential evil and embarrassing one’s self in the presence of a crush, the characters continue to feel plausible. Both Katheryne and Derren have traumas in their past, but both the impact of those traumas and their ways of handling them are different. This makes both their difficulty in resolving them, and the benefit they find in each other’s company seem more than the inevitability of plot.

I enjoyed this novel, but found the romance a little exhausting. I recommend it to readers seeking a good example of YA fantasy.

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