Here we go, folks. My first read for Self-Published Fantasy Month is in. I’m really glad I ended up starting my reads for the month with this one, and I hope the review below will give you some insight into what I enjoyed so much and whether you might enjoy this one too!
Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater is a delightful fantasy of manners. After a chance meeting with a faerie leaves her with only half a soul, Dora Ettings must learn to cope in a life devoid of strong, sharp, immediate emotions. Any hope of living a normal life seems dim indeed, until her cousin Vanessa contrives to introduce Dora to society in London. Filled with many tropes that will be familiar to fans of regency romance, Half a Soul transports readers to a magic-filled world with just the right blend of familiarity and mystery.
“I have known many human beings with a full soul to their name who do not have half so much compassion or practicality as you.”
For me, what makes a romance story work best is when the characters are authentic and relatable. I need the story’s paramours to feel real as individuals, and for their relationship to feel believable. I want to feel for them and connect with the emotion they’re feeling, both in terms of growing attraction for one another as well as whatever other struggles the plot of their lives throws at them. Atwater manages this with near flawless precision. Dora is among the most interesting characters I’ve encountered, precisely because she experiences most emotions at a distance. Far from being hot-headed, she is nearly the opposite. Her lack of reaction gets her into trouble more often than not, and makes her stand out in a culture that values sameness and propriety. Yet through her eyes, we experience the plight of others, those she already knows well and those she comes to know. Somehow, Atwater crafts the story in such a way that we empathize and feel an immediate emotional reaction to the situation characters face even while Dora feels these things more distantly. As the viewpoint character, Dora obviously receives the lion’s share of the development in this novel. But there are plenty of other characters that are every bit as lovingly crafted. From Elias, the Lord Sorcier, to Albert the charitable physician, to Vanessa, the stunning debutante, Atwater gives us characters who learn and grow and change. This change is accomplished in a way that feels true to each of the characters core motivations. There is also a tremendous amount of wit crammed into this novel. One of my favorite elements of historical fantasy set in the Regency is witty dialog. Atwater delivers on this trope wonderfully and I often found myself smiling or chuckling at well placed barbs or turns of phrase.
“You humans always miss the most important details,” he said. It’s not your fault of course.
There were a few things that I would have liked to have seen done differently in Half A Soul. For starters, the magic is somewhat nebulous. This is absolutely fine, but magic—and relative power as a magician—ends up playing more than a passing role in the plot, and so it might have been nice to see a little more explanation on that aspect of things. In fairness, plenty of folks prefer their magic nebulous, so this will end up very much a matter of preference. One might accuse one of the twists of coming slightly out of right field, but after reflection, I actually think all the twists were nicely foreshadowed. There is a subtly to it, but that’s the beauty of a light touch.
This is one of those books that I could see myself returning to for multiple rereads. It definitely has the feel of a comfort read, something wonderful to curl up with on a cold winter day with a good cup of coffee and a warm blanket. Again, the characters are what truly shines here, along with wit and banter aplenty.
Olivia Atwater has given us a gem in Half a Soul. A comfort read with wonderful characters, witty banter, and pacing that keeps the pages turning, this novel is sure to please those who love a Regency romance. I look forward to reading more of Atwater’s work, in this world or any other.