Title: The Memory of Souls
Author: Jenn Lyons
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: Aug 25, 2020
Genres: Epic Fantasy
My head hurts almost as much as my heart after turning the final pages of The Memory of Souls, but knowing that Jenn Lyons is currently writing book 4, The House of Always, has me healing . . . and smiling.
This was insane, chaotic, and often confusing – but wonderfully so. It’s a beautiful mess of characters and relationships that defies either convention or description. I’ve read plenty of fantasy dealing with reincarnation and past lives, but never like this . . . never to this degree. This is a story where past lives are just that – plural – and where longevity plus reincarnation combine to make for complex, cross-generational, sometimes incestuous family dynamics. Nobody is just one person, one life, one memory, and sometimes the whole of one’s soul is very different than the sum of their lives.
Whereas so much of epic fantasy is about saving the world, this series (and this volume in particular) is more about not destroying the world. It’s been saved more than once already, but each respite is shorter than the last, while the price grows higher each time – and yet everyone seems determined to save it again, in the exact same way, expecting a different result. The very definition of insanity. It’s Kihrin who refuses to accept that, who questions the motives of gods, guardians, and immortals, and who is prepared to give up everything to make it work this time. We trust him because he’s supposed to be the hero, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to changing my mind on that multiple times before this volume was through.
Getting back to those characters and their relationships, how Lyons not only validates the emotional triangle between Kihrin, Janel, and Teraeth but explores the complex romance dynamic of a potentially polyamorous triad – one with reincarnation issues and a question of gender fluidity – is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the novel. After so much will-they-won’t-they in The Name of All Things, we get pivotal moments of coming out, confession, and (yes) copulation. I really hope that relationship gets a chance to continue evolving because it’s fantastic. The other relationship we’re granted insights and revelations into is that of the Kihrin, Relos Var, and Vol Karoth, and it sets up that final scene that broke my heart.
As for that gender-fluidity, I love what Lyons has done here with the possibilities of gender. There’s simple reincarnation into different genders; races such as the voramer and morgage who are born male but become female later in life; the magically gifted vane who can alter their gender and appearance over time; and the treacherous mimics who can become anyone at will. There’s a whole question of romance, inheritance, and bloodlines that hinges upon gender, not because same-sex marriage is an issue, but because childbearing is far more problematic.
As for saving or not destroying the world, this is a book that builds to what seems impossible heights, making you wonder how Lyons will ever pull off a climax, but she absolutely nails it. The finale here is big, bold, violent, and full of magic. It involves dragons and demons, mortals and immortals, gods and guardians, and for a book about reincarnation, there are some ‘final’ deaths that threaten to change everything going forward.
As has been the case all along, The Memory of Souls is a book you really must read closely to enjoy. The different narrative voices have nuances and perspectives that alter the story, there are questions of who actually wrote what, and the footnotes are a reading experience in and of themselves. I freely admit, I was getting lost and frustrated reading this as an e-ARC, but once the hardcover landed on my doorstep I sat down, curled up by the window, and devoured the second half over a weekend.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.