Don’t know why you’re crowing about it. Any day where I haven’t beaten a Remnant to death with its own limb is a holiday.
After having read the first two books in Will Wight’s Cradle series, it felt unfair to review them separately. While the first book, Unsouled, was interesting and provided a solid foundation for the series… it fell a little flat for me – particularly when compared to the second book, Soulsmith. I enjoyed Unsouled, but I didn’t understand the hype surrounding the series until I’d read beyond it. Soulsmith was a romp and a half that left me hankering to start Blackflame, even at the expense of some of those ARCs I’ve got piling up!
In Soulsmith, our two main characters truly come into their own. Lindon, born with a stunted magical ability, properly begins on his journey towards power. Yerin, the damaged disciple of the now-deceased Sword Sage, has her own challenges to face. Yerin rapidly became a favorite – she has an “I don’t need anyone! But also, if you hurt Lindon, who by god is under my protection, you will regret it,” sort of attitude. I’m a sucker for the secretly lonely types. Yerin just needs a hug and a shoulder to cry on, yet she can’t quite bring herself to accept that from others. She’s not ready to reveal that level of vulnerability, but I’m already looking forward to it once she is.
Yerin wasn’t overly attached to Wei Shi Lindon; she’d only known him for a few days, and part of her still expected him to be playing some sort of twisty trick on her. She’d spent no small amount of time wondering if she should kill him and remove the danger.
But having Lindon around gave her someone to talk to, someone to help her with her bandages, someone to help keep the bloody memories and the acid-edged grief at bay.
Unsouled, in contrast, largely deals with characters who won’t be plot relevant again for quite some time. Wight fleshes out the culture and politics within Lindon’s home, the Sacred Valley…. But the Sacred Valley is extremely insular and cut-off from the outside world. It doesn’t set the tone properly for the cultures and people we’ll see moving forward. In this same vein, Unsouled tends to feel slow and sluggish, with little actually happening on the pages. The dynastic clan culture represented was intriguing, but ultimately very different from the broad world Lindon moves into in the subsequent books.
Fans of magic systems will find a great deal to enjoy as will fans of progression fantasy. Much of the plot is centered around Lindon’s quest to “level up” in power… but, that said, this is not LitRPG. The magic system is based on a substance called madra, of which there are many different types giving the wielder different abilities. Yerin, for example, uses sword madra. By using different breathing patterns, a magic user can cycle madra through their veins to move throughout their body. At certain madra concentrations or with certain techniques, the user’s body and awareness will change to the next level of power. However, there is a wide range of ability within each stage. Training and madra types determine your fighting ability. You won’t find any health bars or madra counts here – it’s all fairly loosely described.
The prose is fairly workmanlike, but that’s no bad thing in these books. I chewed through the first two in record time – they’re easy, accessible, and don’t require much effort from the reader. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I want out of something. While I don’t want to eat a bag of chips for every meal, sometimes there’s a certain degree of enjoyment in munching on a bag of potato chips until you hit the bottom… and much like potato chips, you’ll find you’re left wanting even more of that deliciously salted and fried goodness the moment they’re gone. Wight tells the story in a way you can sprint right through it, consistently eager to see each new challenge Lindon and Yerin will face.
All in all, Unsouled was okay… but Soulsmith is where Wight hits his stride. If you’re not fond of the first one but like the core concepts and ideas behind progression fantasy, I highly recommend sticking with it before passing judgement. I found Soulsmith to be tons of fun with intense, high-stakes moments.