Book Review: Ensoulment

Every being is infused with a soul upon their creation, but what would happen if a soul was split?”

Ensoulment by Nick Askew is a genre-bending debut that defies traditional plot tropes and formats, pulling no punches as it blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.

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.

The Good

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.

Spark Level

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

Author Interview: Nick Askew

There are a lot of fantasy writers in the world, a lot of them untapped talent that are trying to make their mark in a publishing industry where being an outlier isn’t always to your advantage. There’s a lot of pressure to recreate a success story that came before you while simultaneously not having too risky of a premise. It would have been easy for Nick Askew to tread the same footsteps before him without placing his own mark along the way.

I for one am thankful he hasn’t succumbed to the pressure to abandon his niche. Askew’s fiction is as unfamiliar as it is iconic, a mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror that is unique to his own stylistic choices. Reading Ensoulment left my mind reeling with the twists and turns, and left me counting down the days for the sequel. You can read my review of the book here, but suffice to say, it’s a wild ride.

I was fortunate that Askew took the time to speak with me about his history and future work. Spoiler alert, there’s more to come from his trilogy, and soon, but in the meantime, here’s a lowdown of what to expect in the future from this trailblazer.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nick Askew and I grew up in Colorado. I attended the University of Colorado where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. I worked in related fields, as well as many other odd jobs before discovering my true passion for creative writing.

Tell us about your novel.

My novel is an epic fantasy that takes place in another world after my main character, Andrew, dies in ours. There he has to set out on a quest to find the other half of his soul, all while trying to reunite a princess with her lost prince. To Andrew, it all seems like a familiar fairy tale, but he soon learns that nothing is as it seems and there are dark forces that are working against him to destroy reality itself.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

My favorite novel is The Fires of Heaven, but the whole Wheel of Time series is my favorite as a whole. It inspired me in so many ways but I loved how he told the story through many different POV’s. It taught me that to have a well-rounded story you have to show it through many different eyes and that even the most insignificant appearing character has a role and a story to be told.

You mention you love the Wheel of Time series because it showcases multiple POVs. Can we expect the same from Ensoulment? If so, what were some of the challenges and advantages of working with multiple POVs?

Yes Ensoulment is being told from several different points of view. The biggest challenge that I encountered in telling my story this way is finding each characters unique voice. I wanted to make sure that each one was distinct and that they stood out from one another, so that just by hearing their voice the reader would easily be able to tell whose POV that chapter was from. 

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

My novel is filled with many different characters, many who happen to belong to the LGBTQ community. I am hoping that readers will be able to see themselves in any of the characters and will come to realize that we are all just people. That we all love, and are sad, and have joy and happiness and that deep down, despite our differences, we are all the same. 

What is different about your novel?

My novel is different in that it is a genre-bending trip that contains many surprises.  On the surface it is a fantasy epic, but it also contains many elements of sci-fi, horror, and romance as well as many twist and turns that I think will catch many readers by surprise.

What are your plans for future novels?

Currently I am working on editing the second book in the Ensoulment Trilogy and about to start writing the third.  The first one comes out on September 28, and I plan on releasing the second at the end of October and the third at the end of November.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write because I want to be a positive voice in the world. Right now there are so many negative things happening and it is such a trying time for everyone. I want to create something in the world that brings joy and happiness to people, and ultimately I want readers to realize that there is more that unites us as people than divides us.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I love being able to publish books at my own pace, which can pretty much streamline that process and make it go much faster. On the flip side, the part that I struggle with the most is marketing and advertising. I am naturally a pretty introverted person, so for me to advertise both myself and my book has really been a struggle, though I am making quite the effort on Twitter and other social media platforms.

You mention you enjoy how streamlined self-publishing is but struggle with the promotion. Do you see yourself trying traditional publishing in the future?

I think at some point in the future I would like to try the traditional publishing route. I think a lot of factors would have to line up, and I know that finding an agent can be a difficult task, but it’s definitely something I would be interested in some day. 

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

My greatest struggle has been focusing. Right now the world is in such a terrible place and with everything going on, it is often hard to keep my focus on the creative aspects of my life. I hope to inspire people and show them that despite how destructive things feel right now, that you can create something beautiful and put something joyful out into the world.

You mention that because of the current world situation you’ve had trouble focusing. Is there anything you’ve found helpful that you can share with fellow writers or readers that may be struggling too?

As far as keeping focus during the current environment my advice to other writers would be to just keep your head down as much as possible and just focus on writing, writing and more writing! 

How can we purchase your book?

My book is available for pre-order in ebook format right now on Amazon exclusively.  It will also be available in paperback format on Amazon on my release date of September 28, 2020.