Soul Thief
by Jana Oliver, fantasy (2011)
St Martin's Griffin, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-312-61479-9

Soul Thief is published in the UK as Forbidden. Don't ask me why, I can never fathom the workings of the publishing industry. This book is the second in the Demon Trappers series, and it's a genuine sequel to The Demon Trapper's Daughter (or Forsaken for those in the UK). Everything in this book serves as major spoilers for the previous book, and even the blurb at the back cover of this book gives away major plot developments in the previous book. Therefore, if you want to keep yourself unspoiled where the first book is concerned, don't even touch this book until you have finished reading the previous book, and yes, hit the back button now. Do note that Soul Thief does not offer any closure to the story - you will have to read the next books in the series, so this is indeed a series in every sense of the word.

Anyway, if you don't care about being spoiled, check out my review of the previous book to catch up. I won't go too much into detail here about the synopsis, so let me just say that Riley Blackthorne, still recovering from the demonic assault in the climax of the previous book, is immediately confronted by things that may seem minor compared to the end of the world, but do bear in mind that she's 17 and all alone in the world except for the grumpy, whiny and ultimately useless potential designated future boyfriend of hers, Denver Beck. Therefore, poor Riley doesn't have it easy when she has to locate her father's missing body after it has been stolen by... necromancers, she'd guess. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Simon is turning all creepy and even nasty on her. Her father's debt collectors are hounding her for money. Perhaps it is not a good time for the demons to keep trying to kill her - and she still doesn't know why those inconsiderate wretches want her dead - or the demon hunters from Rome to fly down and try to pin her down for being the prime suspect that orchestrated the demonic assault on her fellow trappers in the previous book. It is a reprieve of some sort for her to bump into Ori, your quintessential tall, dark, and handsome stranger, but she can't be certain whether he is her friend or foe.

Soul Thief is not the most high-octane action-packed story around, but it still carries forward the momentum from the previous book that left me breathless with excitement. I could very well be repeating the same things I've said in that review, but hey, it's not every day that an author manages to knock me off my feet with two consecutive books. This one is a gripping read that has me at the edge of my seat even during the more quiet moments. I can't put this book down until the last page, and when I'm done with it, I find myself craving for more.

One reason for this is the well-drawn setting. It comes to life in vivid technicolor here. The author strikes a good balance between scenery overload and action, so the pacing never drags even as I feel that I can see the setting. Another reason is that I really like Riley. She's 17, trying very hard to make sense of the way her world has crashed and burned after the violent death of her father, and the poor darling can't catch a break her. But she doesn't whine or act like an entitled brat like most heroines in her shoes tend to do in other books - she tries very hard to come out on top, and I really like that. She's not always wise, and she doesn't always win either, but that's because she's only 17. She's tough, but the author manages to also show me that she has real flaws without making Riley being weak or stupid.

The only issue I have here is that Simon is a completely different character in this book. I don't have a problem with what the author chooses to do with him, but his personality change is too abruptly introduced into the story. It's probably a good thing that the love triangle... square... thing isn't the main focus of this story, because between Simon and Beck, I have enough silly emo boyfriend antics to make me roll up my eyes three times over. I know, I'm an old grouch with little patience for emo young men, but Beck in this story whines so much that he begins to grate on my nerves. Judging from how he keeps making sad Eeyore eyes at Riley from afar when he's not being curt and even mean to her face (he's emo, you see, so he can't help himself), I bet he cries during sex and the poor woman would have to spend the morning after comforting him and reassuring him that she doesn't really mind his tiny pee-pee. I know the author wants me to believe that Beck's pathetic "I pull the pigtails of the girl I like" act is supposed to be a sign that he and Riley are meant to be, but yeah, I think I'm too old to appreciate such playground antics. Anyway, the only tolerable boys in this book are Oni and, surprisingly, Peter. It is as if all of Simon's halfway decent mojo has been siphoned from him to be given to Peter. And, honestly, does the author really need to make every other guy in this story to have the hots for Riley? She's a pretty realistic tough heroine in her own right, so I don't know why Ms Oliver seems intent on turning Riley into the Sue that launches a thousand ships. Even if this is the case, can I ask for the boys on those ships to be interesting, at least? All those boring whiny boys aren't doing a thing for me.

Anyway, boring boys aside, this story is really a fun ride. Reading this book has been a total immersion experience into a fabulous and exciting new world where the fun just never ends. If you are looking for a young adult series and you are tired of sparkling Mary Sues being told constantly by twenty rainbow boys that they are the most special snowflakes in the world, give this one a try. It's not free from the clichés that plague series of this sort, but the author does a good job in making them her own and serving up a series that has been one hell of a ride so far.

Rating: 90

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