Unsouled is the first book in the series Cradle, the best-known series of author Will Wight, one of several that are connected through his expanded universe. In a world centered around and defined by mystical martial arts, it brings together themes familiar to those who love wuxia and Asian fantasy, combining systems of honor and social class with martial arts, a unique magic system, and ambitious lore. It feels original as it connects this style of fantasy storytelling to his expanded universe. Unsouled serves as a foundation for Lindon, our protagonist, and creates a launching point for the rest of the series.
As the introduction to an ambitious story, Unsouled is set as the first of nine current books in the Cradle series, with a projected twelve in total. It definitively falls in the YA Fantasy genre, so the book length, language, and writing style reflect that. The books are easy to pick up and read, with themes and storytelling that are exciting and drew me in, but not necessarily with significant depth that readers of high or epic fantasy might look for.
We meet Lindon, a main character who is less than remarkable, and get an introduction to his world through this book. Readers find a world where honor and pride are esteemed above nearly all else, where sacred artists harness the power of their souls, combining the vital aura of the world with their internal madra, or energy, into power that they can use to influence the world. Lindon however, is Unsouled. In the eyes of his community, he is unworthy and will never become a sacred artist. As such, he is dishonored and seen as less than nothing in the eyes of his clan. When a paradigm shattering event opens Lindon’s eyes to the eventual fate and destruction of the Sacred Valley, he embarks on a path that will carry him far from his home, and potentially to a power far beyond what anyone from the Sacred Valley could dream of.
This first book introduces Lindon and later Yerin, the disciple of the Sword Sage, and through it gives readers the same narrow perspective Lindon has regarding the world. As we understand the way things work in the Sacred Valley through following Lindon, readers learn as he does about how much more of the world there is,and how much more potential there is beyond that of the Sacred Valley.
Unsouled is a book in a series that I enjoyed, but I wish I could have enjoyed more. It is well written, though it feels as though it is ambitious enough to try to break out of the Young Adult category of stories, but falls short. The fun, quick reads complement the relatively short book length as well as Wight’s writing style. There is a rapid turnover in terms of how quickly the books are published, and along with the author writing multiple series at the same time gives the feel of great ambition. So far, Unsouled was enough to interest me in the Cradle series, but it remains to be seen if the series holds that same strength to make me invested long enough to seek out Wight’s expanded works, even if those stories are connected to Cradle, loosely or otherwise.
Specifically in Unsouled, the story and world that Wight has created are his strength, much more so than his writing. The intricacies of the story of Lindon, our unlikely but fully dedicated hero, juxtaposed with the meta-universal story that readers catch glimpses of through Suriel and mentions of the Abidan Court are promises of greatness. The magic system is clearly well thought out, with layers and rules that are clearly defined and well presented to readers. As far as Lindon, and to this extent the reader, is concerned, there are clear boundaries and limits to what vital aura, madra, and sacred artists can do. When he learns there is more than what he understands, there is still a very clear understanding for the reader that the rules for this setting are established and have clear limits.
It is also worth mentioning, however unfortunate, that the book edition I received was not thoroughly reviewed before the final printing, whether that was a mistake on the part of the publisher, editor, or the author. The book had errors that might have been few in number, but were significant enough that I noticed them as I was reading, even simple mistakes that should not have been missed (a missing period, incorrect words such as homophones, and sloppy paragraph formatting in at least two instances). Some errors were likely missed during quality checks, but they were apparent enough even when I wasn’t looking for errors, which is disappointing to see as a reader.
While an entertaining read with exciting action and a compelling story, Unsouled serves as a solid introduction to the Cradle series, but does little to distinguish itself. The YA format serves Wight’s writing and storytelling style well, though for the ambitious nature of the greater story I believe he is trying to tell, it feels as though it could fall short of what it could be, but I hope I am pleasantly mistaken. The series is long, allowing for more to be told across the entire series, but after reading the first book, I have tempered my expectations. For anyone who enjoys YA Fantasy Adventure books, especially in a long series with interesting magic systems and a melding of martial arts with fantasy themes, Unsouled offers a good introduction to a fun series. It showcases the style of writing readers can expect from subsequent books, a starting look at the meta-story Wight has created, and the potential for Lindon’s story from its genesis.
Unsouled is written by Will Wight, and is published by Hidden Gnome Publishing.
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