“Every being is infused with a soul upon their creation, but what would happen if a soul was split?”
The story begins innocuous enough, with the LA bound Andrew in a relationship with a man he’s not quite sure he loves. At his boyfriend’s debut as a photographer in the high society art scene, an encounter with a mysterious, grinning man that leaves him feeling cold heralds a fantastical journey, one that begins with his death as his boyfriend takes a knee to propose. When he wakes up, he has no memory of his past, and quickly learns that all is not well in the world he has stumbled into.
What follows is a topsy-turvy tale in multiple points of view that spans different genres, timelines and worlds, leaving the reader constantly questioning what’s real along with Andrew and the other main characters. Yet the novel doesn’t feel disjointed or forced despite its lofty goals, making this one of the best executed fantasy and speculative fiction debuts I’ve encountered so far.
I’m going to be upfront. This book was not at all what I expected, and I mean that in the best possible way. I expected a novel where the main character from our world was whisked away to a world of knights, princesses, and dragons, with LGBT characters for my queer little heart as the cherry on top.
This book took my expectations out back and smashed it like the printer in Office Space. Ensoulment is as much a science fiction and horror story as it is fantasy, bending into the different genres like a slinky down a stairwell.
For one, Askew doesn’t shy away from period-appropriate violence and creepy characters that will most likely appear in my nightmares. Horror influences? Check. The fantasy elements are easy to spot, including the ‘save the princess’ plot, the familiarity much needed in the complex twists and turns. The science-fiction elements are sparing at first, like sprinkles on a cupcake, but further into the book, they become more prevalent. Instead of seeming like disparate pieces glued together, Askew pulls off a genre-bending book that made every twist feel like it belonged as a piece of the whole.
The plot is a complicated web rather than a straight line, and we travel through it in bits and pieces. The prose is unencumbered yet vivid, the characters twisted but human (mostly.) The only criticism I have is that the ending was quite abrupt, but considering the length of the novel, as it stands, I can’t imagine a better place to end it within the timeline. Fortunately, the sequel is coming up soon, which means readers won’t have long to wait.
Should You Read It?
As always, please observe the Trigger Warnings at the bottom of the page before reading.
If you’re a fan of books that fit the mold and rely on tried and true plots and characters… this is not your book.
This is the book for the readers among us who have been there, read that, and want more from their fiction. Fans of speculative fiction will be over the moon to have a book by a new up and coming author to sink their teeth into. If you like being surprised (both in delight and in horror) this book delivers. I won’t give too much away because the twists are that prevalent, but suffice to say, they were never a let down.
As I mentioned before, the ending is somewhat abrupt, so if you’re the type of person who isn’t a fan of cliffhangers, it might be worth waiting for the next book—or even the full trilogy—to be released. It sounds like Askew will be releasing the last of the series within the near future, so you won’t have long to wait.
I rated Ensoulment as spark level Inferno. It’s a book where you never know where the next surprise will come knocking; the only certainty is that it’s going to make you burn.
Trigger Warnings: Torture, Period Typical Violence