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Review: Soul Cage by LR Schulz

Nathan’s review of Soul Cage by LR Schulz

The t;dr: Soul Cage might have one of my favorite magic systems of all time – magical power is attained by collecting the souls of others by killing them. Luke Schulz expertly uses this magic system to full effect. Not only is it really freaking cool, but it also provides the foundations for all of the character/thematic arcs in the books. Soul Cage is more than just its cool magic system, it also has compelling characters that drive the narrative, including a reluctant protagonist and a young neurodivergent man. I ate this book up and cannot wait for more!

My review:

Well, now I’m kicking myself for not getting into Luke Schulz’s books even earlier because Soul Cage is a tour de force of fantasy writing. Cool magic, reluctant heroes, neurodivergent representation, and a big old fantasy world that doesn’t forget its own emotional core. Fans of big dark fantasy books need to take note!

In the world of Soul Cage, magic-users attain more power by literally collecting the souls of others. When you kill someone, you not only take their soul but all of the souls they have ever collected. Therefore, people can get more and more powerful by killing the strongest around them – but if you aren’t careful having too many souls can cause you to “break”. Of course, many people strive to use these soul-based powers to increase their own political authority and the borders of their empire, leading to global conflicts. Soul Cage tells the story of three POV characters amidst these conflicts – a powerful-yet-reluctant mage who is tasked with protecting his nation, a “broken” woman who is drafted into an empire-hungry regime, and a neurodivergent young man with powerful magical potential.

I have to start this review by nerding out about the absolutely freaking cool magic system in Soul Cage. Like Luke, are you kidding me? Magic based on soul-transference may seem pretty standard on the surface, but the way that Schulz uses it throughout the book is awe-inspiring. Schulz doesn’t shy away from his magic system and there are plenty of people being killed and plenty of souls crashing into other people’s bodies. This is also vividly described, and the Schulz always makes sure that the emotional impact of the soul-transference is highlighted in the prose. As the reader you will phyiscally feel the painful change that the characters go through as they accept more souls, as well as the psychological trauma of taking on this new power and identities. Many of the characters in Soul Cage are haunted by the souls they have absorbed – souls who want to be unleased in their agency to get revenge for their previous deaths and transference. This magic system just absolutely fires on so many levels – from simply being really awesome to informing the character and thematic arcs in so many special ways.

While Soul Cage definitely operates on the “rule of cool” in its magic and worldbuilding, the characters and their journeys are what tied me in and didn’t let me go. Soul Cage follows three major POV characters who are all equally compelling – I seriously never dreaded a particular POV because each of their stories were immersive while also being unique. One of the POV characters is a classic “reluctant protagonist”. A powerful magic user who just wants to find his dead wife’s soul…and otherwise sit in his wealth and drink. Another POV is from a young man who is neurodivergent and was probably my favorite POV in the entire book. I loved this characterization, where the neurodivergence is obviously part of who this character is, but it isn’t used as part of the “Disabled Chosen One” trope. The neurodivergent character is magically specially, but in no way is it implied that he is special because of his neurodivergence. I always looked forward to his chapters and his future “baby girl” energy. The final POV is of a rugged, broken warrior; while I still loved her, she might have been my least favorite POV character just because she has a darker personality that didn’t immediately leap of the page.

Schulz never loses focus of his character’s journeys, as our reluctant hero starts to understand the severity of his actions, the young magic user learns about the darkness lurking in the world, and the “broken” warrior figures out that paths of vengeance are never easy. The characters are just so well drawn, and they are surrounded by some of the best side characters and most hateable villains in epic fantasy!

As Schulz pushes his characters through their journeys, he slowly peels back the world around them. The actual worldbuilding unfurls slowly throughout the book. You won’t find long litanies of countries, cultures, religions, economies, and more that can slow down a narrative. The info-dumps are sparse, and the focus of the book remains tight. There are some tantalizing elements of the world that I hope that we get to see more in the world in future books, but in Soul Cage I was perectly happy to let the characters and magic-system take charge over intensive levels of worldbuilding.

What else is there to say other than to stop reading this review and go buy your own copy of Soul Cage. It is yet another book that shows the sheer level of quality and potential of indie fantasy – and all of the really cool unique ideas that come out of it.

 

 

 

 

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