Katrina Archer’s standalone dark fantasy The Tree of Souls is the author’s second novel to date 1.
The naked woman has no idea who or even what she is, but the brand on her skin marks her as significant. Adopting the name Umbra, she is offered refuge by a local lord. Umbra may have no memories but she certainly has an enemy, in the form of the necromancer Iril. Her quest to find out why he seeks to harm her draws Umbra into a story centuries old.
On one side, the clans; on the other side, the Gherza tribes. Both sides covet the territory in the middle, the Aramar Plateau. The result? Interminable struggle. The balance of power changes over time, but not the ongoing conflict
Centuries before Umbra’s time, a little harmless dabbling in love magic very nearly had tragic consequences for Gherza heir Jezarel. A refugee, the half-breed Kairiya, intervened to save Jezarel. Jezarel’s father, Izar of the Zaghril ul-Gherza tribe, distrusted Kairiya but grudgingly granted her the hospitality of the tribe.
Centuries later, the ripples from the story of Jezarel and Kairiya are still spreading. Umbra may have forgotten the old history, but the necromancer has not. And the sorceress is determined to exact revenge for what she regards as a crime, regardless of the cost.
I may be the first reviewer to compare this book to last Sunday’s The Prometheus Crisis. The designers of the doomed nuclear reactor complex and the beings who shaped Umbra’s world have a common weakness: an unfortunate fondness for designs with single-point failure modes. Presumably using a central mystical fulcrum makes certain issues involved in world-creation more tractable, but the approach encounters the obvious problem—failure of the one thing on which so much depends has terrible consequences—often enough that I think designers, mortal and divine, should consider a less centralized approach 2.
Archer regales us with two narratives—Now and Then—and it’s clear that Jezarel and Kairiya have to be related to Umbra and Iril in some manner. What the connection might be is unclear, even after Umbra’s true nature is revealed. That’s part of the mystery Umbra has to unravel before she can solve her problems.
My reaction to the novel is oddly divided. Although I found it interesting enough that I will seek out the author’s other book. I find it hard to get invested in grand supernatural conflicts like the struggle between Iril and Umbra. Jezarel and Kairiya’s more human-scale conflict was more to my taste.
The Tree of Souls is available here.
1: Her first book was the young adult novel Untalented, which I have not read.
2: I wonder if anyone has imagined a fantasy calamity analogous to last week’s massive DDOS attack?