Worldsoul by Liz Williams
What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world?
Worldsoul, a great city that forms a nexus point between Earth and the many dimensions known as the Liminality, is a place where old stories gather, where forgotten legends come to fade and die—or to flourish and rise again. Until recently, Worldsoul has been governed by the Skein, but they have gone missing and no one knows why. The city is also being attacked with lethal flower-bombs from an unknown enemy. Mercy Fane and her fellow Librarians are doing their best to maintain the Library, but . . . things . . . keep breaking out of ancient texts and legends and escaping into the city. Mercy must pursue one such nightmarish creature, and she turns to Shadow the alchemist for aid, with the fate of the Library—and Worldsoul itself—hanging in the balance . . .
Liz Williams is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Glastonbury, England, where she is co-director of a witchcraft supply business. Her first two novels, The Ghost Sister and Empire of Bones were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, as was her fifth, Banner of Souls, which was also shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. From the mid-nineties until 2000, she lived and worked in Kazakhstan. Her experiences there are reflected in her fourth novel, Nine Layers of Sky. Her third novel The Poison Master has been translated into Dutch. She is also the author of the Inspector Chen series. Williams' short fiction appears regularly in Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s, and other magazines. She is the secretary of the Milford SF Writers’ Workshop, and also teaches creative writing and the history of Science Fiction.
[Five Stars] The range of the stories and cultures that intersect in Worldsoul was delightful in its ambitiousness...In creating her vivid and fast-paced world, Williams steers her story around the pitfall of many book-related novels. There are no long, self-indulgent monologues about the wonder of reader or the power of literature.
Instead, Williams’ appreciation for culture and myths permeates the action itself, as organic as if it couldn’t be any other way. This is fantasy at its best, with witty dialogue, political plots, magic spells, and plenty of action and adventure. Oh, and a wonderful writing style.
Worldsoul picks you up and throws you in the deep end from page one. There are no long passages of world-building, no appendices of the hierarchy of hell or types of djinn, and no catch-up sequences badly disguised as character dialogue. Readers dive into the story as it’s happening, and any catching up is done on their own time (yes! an author after my own heart). Williams crafts a vivid world of spinning parts and trusts you to hold on for the ride.
For me, the experience was like getting a pass to my favorite thrill ride–and then on a trip to an ice-cream store. (Of course, mileage may vary for the more cautious reader.)
This is a book that will appeal to fans of both traditional and urban fantasy genres. More than that, it sets up an incredible premise…and then delivers on it.
...one of the strengths of Worldsoul is the author Liz Williams’ adroit control of multiple parallel but not unrelated points of view—all without relying on exposition or info-dumps, no less. Although it was a bit confusing and overwhelming to be suddenly dropped into this world without a firm guide, Worldsoul's lack of exposition is actually part of the fun of the novel. Readers are completely immersed in the book, and thus become a part of Worldsoul itself. Since our Earth—its myths, archetypes and stories—are so deeply connected to Worldsoul, it becomes increasingly easier to understand the world and the characters’ motivations (not to be mention fun, as we begin to recognize the tales from whence these characters emerged).
Worldsoul is therefore very much a first book in a trilogy...and many things are left unsaid and undisclosed...The possibilities for Worldsoul are infinite, and I suspect that, much in the way that she does with her storybook characters, Williams can take this series anywhere she wants. I will have my seconds, thank you very much.
I should be clear up front that Worldsoul is a fast-paced, fun adventure featuring a number of fairly over-the-top characters and a totally over-the-top concept...But beneath all of the entertainment is the sharp mind of an author with a degree in the Philosophy of Science and a great love for the genres in which she works. Listen:
This part of the map showed the northern storyways. At the top were the more modern folktales, threads of narrative which led down into more ancient groups of legend. Most of them were quests, showing the distinctive golden-brown colour of quest stories and featuring brave children, elf-folk and svart-folk, mythical swords, magical objects. Earlier on, the children had been heroes, usually male, and then gods.
“Here’s something,” Nerren said, peering. The readout showed a partial tale, of a wonderful necklace desired by a goddess: this one was multilayered and emergent into Earth’s present day, but at the bottom a thread disappeared into nowhere. Nerren sighed. “It’s slid past the Holdstockian layer into the nevergone. Looks more like a love story, though.”
Holdstockian layer? Of course. If there is a Theory of Story, Rob’s name has to feature prominently within it.
What Williams is doing here is creating an entire magic system based on stories. It’s like she’s following Clute’s attempts to systematize the fantastic, but assigning real magical power to Story. As a result, books can be scary things.
Mercy took a deep breath. This wasn’t just a private library. These were the books The Great Library of Worldsoul had failed to procure, the books which fell through cracks in realities, the books which were the most dangerous of all. This room contained grimoires: she could tell that by their iron-blood-charcoal smell and the wincing sensation of her skin, as though spiders walked across her flesh. These were the books of magic and sacrifice, of punishment and control. Some of these books, like the text from which the disir had sprung, would be bound with human skin flayed from a living victim. Mercy had met several books of which she was actively afraid, and a number which merely made her nervous. She did not, yet, know which category the books in this library would fall into.
That should be “dísir”, of course, but Williams and her editor, Paula Guran, have wisely decided to ditch the alphabetic complexities here. While Hollywood is presenting us with a simplistic, sanitized version of Æsgard, Williams has gone back to the sources and dredged up some primeval female spirits from Norse mythology who probably pre-figure the Norns and Valkries. She also introduces a goddess called Mareritt—a Danish word meaning “nightmare”—who looks like an ancestress of Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia. Sadly there is no Turkish Delight.
Of course books are not just scary. Some of them are darned smart:
The door opened. Footsteps came along one of the rows, then stopped. Mercy held her breath. She didn’t think it was the same row from which she had taken the book and she hoped The Winter Book would keep its pages shut: books had been known to shout out before now. It must be nice, she thought bitterly, to live in a place like Earth, where inanimate objects didn’t have their own opinions. A jumbled montage of stories — millstones and necklaces and spinning wheels that shouted, “Help! Help!” when stolen — rapidly crossed Mercy’s mind’s eye. It was all Earth’s fault, anyway, for being a place where folk had imaginations. She clutched the book a little more tightly, but it did not speak.
That’s probably just as well, given the person who is close to apprehending Mercy in the act of stealing a book.
But you see what I mean about the book being fun, right? More to the point, it is smart fun. And while The Winter Book might not talk, Worldsoul
In Short: Complicated and a little confusing, but colorful and absorbing; I’m very interested in seeing where Williams takes all this.
This is only part of Worldsoul, the first volume in a steampunk-tastic new trilogy that evokes Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus stories by way of Philip Pullman and TNT’s Librarian movies, plus probably other influences...It’s a whole lot of fun, but a little overwhelming, and when I was finished I found myself wondering exactly what I had just read. (With that said: What an ending. Consider my interest well and truly piqued.)...And make no mistake: I will be looking for Book 2, downloading it enthusiastically, and reading it with interest. I liked this book. In particular, I really loved all the strong female characters...Anyway, Worldsoul is a solid setup for what promises to be a highly entertaining trilogy.
This is very much the beginning of a trilogy. There are many unanswered questions about the characters and what some of the antagonists want even at the end. It would be easy to confuse this with a lack of character depth. In the case of this book's main villain, I think that's not completely unjustified. But I'm willing to wait and see what the next novels bring us before I make up my mind about the protagonists...
This novel will demand a certain amount of patience from the reader. The first few chapters in particular involve a lot of skipping around from character to character and place to place after a relatively short number of pages, and Williams is by no means eager to hand all the answers to questions about the characters and the setting to the reader. She does paint gorgeous word-pictures, though. If the deft use of words makes you happy, and you can wait until fairly late in a book to get answers to things that may confuse you at first, you should give this a try.
[Five Stars] When you put all this together, it takes a while to understand who everyone is and how they relate to each other. Such is always the way when you embark on a major series and introduce your cast of long-running characters. As fantasy goes, this may start quite small but it has a genuinely epic quality about it as forces assemble to confront each other in bloody battle. When talons meet jaws and barbed tails, not everyone can emerge unscathed, for even in the best regulated stories, there must always be some who fall by the wayside. Indeed, having access to what should be the definitive book taken from the shelves of the library itself, is not always going to tell you in advance what the ending will be. Sometimes, you just have to wait to read the next in the series to find out what happens next.
Worldsoul is a completely entrancing fantasy, exploiting the essential nature of narrative as its own reality. If that sounds like a paradox that cannot be resolved, read the book to see how Liz Williams squares the circle and leaves the magic intact.
There is a lot happening in this story and the threads are at times slow to weave together—at times it feels like you are working as hard as the characters to know what is going on, but without the benefit of familiarity with the world. However, when you reach certain point there is a strong feeling of satisfaction—like climbing a mountain and being rewarded with the clear view for miles. The finale is exhausting and exhilarating with plenty of action and some truly compelling story telling.
Overall, the lack of emotional connection to the characters and the difficult to understanding this unique world, held me back from truly appreciating the story on more than a technical area. But I was never tempted to put the book down. Worth investing the time but not for those without concentration skills!
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