Title: Soul Fraud
Author: Andrew Givler
Genre: Urban Fantasy
The first book in the ‘Debt Collection’ series, Soul Fraud tells the story of Matthew Carver, a young man whose soul is stolen when he refuses to sell it to a demon desperate for a sale. Determined to get it back, Matt barges into a world of magic and myth, and by doing so tips the various factions that live there out of their delicate peace. Stumbling headlong into a long-simmering conflict among beings with powers he can’t conceive of, Matt now has to help his new friends prevent a war, or failing that, to win one.
What Matt finds as he begins the search for his soul is that there is a magical world woven into the mundane Los Angeles he is used to. The reader follows along as he slowly learns more about it and more about the predicament he’s found himself in. There are people walking around who aren’t 100 percent human, there are monsters that he thought were only folk tales, there are restaurants where they all hang out, and there are demons like the one that stole his soul, as well as ones that are much worse.
The details, slowly fleshed out over the course of the book, start to paint a vivid picture of a complex world with a rich history. Because it is laid out slowly, the reader is spared the blocks of exposition that are sometimes found in similar stories. The author has also allowed for the chance for certain concepts to be revealed slowly with a foundation first, followed by more details. This also means that Matt has time to ruminate over the escalation of his involvement in these events and how he feels about what he is being asked to be a part of (and/or accidentally causes).
The details are revealed slowly, but the plot clips along quickly and picks up speed as the conclusion draws closer. There are mysterious characters and displays of great power. There’s also plenty of action and violence, and Matt’s responses to these are of particular value. Also notable is a modern take on a minotaur and a labyrinth that will likely make readers laugh out loud.
As a protagonist, Matt is a likable, if somewhat dopey, young man. His tendency toward sarcasm and pop culture references are a little typical at first, but as the reader gets to see him in increasingly dangerous situations, his take on what is happening to him becomes more and more intriguing. Also welcome is his uncommon (compared to similar stories) reaction to a common predicament: when the girl he secretly loves becomes interested in him, but only because of the demon’s meddling.
Some readers may note that most of the main characters are male and that all of the core ones are. There are some literally kickass female characters for sure, but no human ones that act on their own agency. But, as mentioned above, the treatment of women is notably equitable in a genre where they aren’t always front and center.
Due to its humor, the realism of its urban setting, and the slow manner in which the mythical elements are revealed, Soul Fraud is a story that will appeal to a broad section of fiction, magical realism, and speculative fiction readers. It would be a great book to recommend to those who don’t usually read these genres or are newer to them.
In all, Soul Fraud is a story about magical beings and secret forces, but it is also about free will and the drive to pursue what is right. It is about persistence in the face of overwhelming misfortune and tapping into hidden reserves of personal strength. It is a story about standing up and facing your destiny, even if you have no idea what you are doing.
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