By Steve Dean

Reviewed by Barry J House

A young boy, Garen, lives in a land free of poverty and crime and yet he is unhappy. The population is ruled by the mysterious Brotherhood -- the Soulkeepers -- a sect of Warlocks who subjugate individuals by stealing away a portion of their souls during childhood. However, Garen's soul has survived the 'ripping' procedure intact. Angry at the Brotherhood's less than benevolent treatment of his father and their seeming contempt for the populace, Garen, now a youth, sets off into the forest to join a band of freedom fighters.

Garen is accompanied on the quest by his friend, Sciel, an ape-like creature with an insatiable appetite. Sciel provides most of the comic asides in this adventure while Kymar, the tough talking (and even tougher acting) orphan girl Garen meets along the way, is only too happy to initiate the majority of fighting sequences.

Before the boy and his primate friend even realise what is happening, Kymar has convinced our unlikely heroes to sneak into the very Castle of the Warlocks in a bid to free the thousands of souls imprisoned there by the Brotherhood.

Soulkeepers begins with a prologue that thrusts its readers into the very heart of the story with a fly on the wall introduction to the leading villain, Brother Irator, demonstrating the fine art of soul ripping. The first couple of chapters concentrate on the tale's two main characters, together with their ape-like companion. The reader is then whisked five years forward in time to where the main part of the story takes place. I would have preferred a more gradual transition, peppered with further examples of the Brotherhood's crimes and the children's growing sense of revulsion for the world in which they are forced to live. However, this is only my personal opinion and the story does just fine as it is.

Soulkeepers really is quite an enjoyable adventure, with characters you quickly come to like and care for. I even found myself feeling pity for the villains of the piece, the misguided Brotherhood, who genuinely believe they are making the world a better place. I found the book to be edited to a standard that puts many mainstream publishers to shame; I believe I only spotted one or two minor errors in the whole novella.

Soulkeepers is written in an uncomplicated, yet capable, style that keeps its intended audience firmly in mind. Without hesitation, I would recommend it for any child (or, indeed, adult) who takes pleasure in reading the Harry Potter series of novels, or similar works of fantasy.

Soulkeepers by Steve Dean. Pb, 106pp, £5.99. Published by Hadesgate Publications, P.O. Box 167, Selby, North Yorkshire, YO8 4WP, UK

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