Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Necklace Of Souls A Necklace Of Souls
by R. L. Stedman

Supplied for review by Harper Collins New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simon Litten
June Young

A Necklace of Souls is R. L. (Rachel) Stedman’s first novel – there is a sequel on the way, which for this reviewer is very pleasing to note – and has aimed true for the YA adventure market.

A Necklace of Souls tells the story of Dana, princess in the Kingdom of the Rose, and Will newly orphaned baker’s son and fresh to the kingdom (it is where his relatives live). Will gets apprenticed to the castle kitchen and eventually crosses path with the restless and fractious Dana. Dana is being trained to be a young lady, but would rather be anything but. Will is used as a foil to escape that training as much as possible.

This is not a tale of star crossed young love thwarted by social station and unkind circumstance, though by the end of the book romance is hinted. No; the Kingdom of the Rose has attracted the attention of a powerful magician who has sensed something in the kingdom he wants. What that something is he doesn’t know, but he wants it nonetheless. The kingdom is guarded by some powerful magic aided by a guardian who wears a necklace of the spirits of the previous guardians. But that necklace extracts a price and Dana has discovered that she is to be the next guardian – a frightening prospect as she is niece to the current necklace wearer, whom she loves dearly, and can see the damage the necklace is causing – and does not relish the prospect.

In A Necklace of Souls Ms Stedman has created a believable world peopled with sympathetic characters that are true to their motivations. She does not over play the magic nor rely on coincidence.

This was a book that pleads for a sequel as there is obviously more of the story to tell.

- Simon Litten

Dana is a young princess in the Kingdom of the Rose. This large island kingdom is protected and hidden by magic. Will is an orphan sent to live in this kingdom with his aunt and her family. Dana and Will eventually meet, and end up training together, for the island is under threat from outsiders with powerful magic. Sounds standard but it is not. It has a bit extra going for it, and I felt it in the writing as I began reading; that sense of being drawn into the story.

The story is gradually revealed from the point of view of Dana as a princess growing up with a duty to her land, and to a lesser extent Will, as the foreigner to this kingdom. It is the gradual unfolding of the magic of this kingdom, Dana’s family heritage, and the development of Dana and Will’s relationship that is the core to this story. It is close to the first time in reading fantasy that I’ve seen two children who do have plenty of natural talent - have to seriously train hard and study hard for some years to fully develop their potential. It doesn’t "just happen" with a little casual training tossed in on the way, or allocated into the background. The training occurs upfront, and I think this is a good reality in a fantasy.

The other thing that impressed me was the mixture of technology and flavour of magic that was used. It is not just the standard pseudo-medieval European setting, even if that is used as the base. It is very international in its choice of magic, people and places.

Time goes quickly as the reader sees snippets of important events and incidents in the life of Dana and Will as they both reach adulthood, which is 16 in this kingdom. This spares the reader from a lot of mundane detail that would not have served the progression of the story. I liked the way only the relevant bits were shown, and found myself re-reading earlier pages of the story as more was revealed.

There is a romance developing as a side story but nothing to put YA readers off. Extremely low on "angst" too, which I think is a big positive in a YA story. Dana’s voice is very modern, which should work with the target audience. Will’s life starts in a more traditional setting, and it is here that the reader gets an appreciation of what we have in the 21st century. It is these subtle touches that make this book discreetly different from a standard fantasy.

It progresses at a steady pace and ends at a suitable point but there is clearly more to be told. No cliff hangers. I hope to see the sequel as I thought this was a good first book by the author with some fairly original and atypical ideas.

- June Young

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