Unsouled by Will Wight (Cradle #1) – Book Review

Because all you needed was another Unsouled review

How about literature as comfort food? Sometimes you need to unwind in-between serious, demanding reads, to lose yourself in a world whose stakes, while not low by any means, don’t hit quite as deep as they otherwise might. For me, Unsouled, the first book in Will Wight’s much celebrated Cradle series, is the epitome of a comfort food book. I experienced it as an audiobook, which has the added benefit of featuring the voice of Travis Baldree, whose debut novel, Legends and Lattes, stole mine and every other reader’s heart last year. H e’s a celebrated audiobook narrator and I can see why; Baldree imbues the characters he voices with personality; it’s no difficult task, as Wight’s characters have plenty of it, even if some of it is one-note. That’s something I don’t mind one bit — people often equate one-dimensional characters with bad characters, but that couldn’t be further away from the truth. The better part of the characters you’ll come across in Unsouled are one-dimensional; that doesn’t mean they’re no fun to read about.

As for Will Wight himself, I’ll permit to hypothesise that he spends at least as much time watching anime as I do — Unsouled has more than a few familiar tropes that made me feel like I was sitting down to enjoy a good shonen show on a lazy weekend. The Cradle series is also one of the best-known Western example of cultivation or progression fantasy, a genre known as Xianxia in China, from where it originates. The genre follows the growth in power of one character, from a humble human being into an entity that makes the very gods tremble. It’s slow bloody business, becoming a god, though — that’s why there are twelve of these bad boys to follow main character Lindon’s exploits.

This first twelfth is a fairly lean fantasy novel, at just under 300 pages – some of the latter entries beef up to over 450. It does a really good job setting up the world, hinting at there being so much more to see than what this first book reveals, which is well and good for a world you hope your readers will spend anywhere from a hundred to a few hundred hours in over the course of years of reading; I speak, of course, of the perspective Wight must’ve had when he first started writing this book. What works in Wight’s favour is that Lindon is a genuinely likeable protagonist in the vein of much of the shonen anime I grew up with – bland in some non-descript way, which allows you to project yourself onto him but also driven by very relatable goals. He is powerless in a world full of powerful people. He sees power abused in egregious ways and he wishes to do better; he knows he can do better.

Lindon goes through a number of trials, makes the best of his circumstances, makes a friend/mentor along the way, and comes out of the other end stronger and entering into a far bigger, messier world than the one he leaves behind.

While reading Unsouled, I was put in mind of the starting zone of an RPG game, a five-to-ten hour tutorial experience that teaches you the rules of the world before stepping back and plunging you down its depths. I’m not sure there’s much of a practical difference in those terms but then, I read the book months ago. What’s stuck with me after those few months have gone by? Good question, me, thanks for asking it!

For one, the idea of using your soul as the source of your energies is intuitive, unoriginal but made entertaining through imaginative displays of power. The class-based system in such worlds, defined by power as it is, must be a nightmare to live in from the perspective of our contemporary world but the communal elements Wight introduces to smooth out its most violent aspects make of tribal life in this world a more attractive preposition. It’s fun to see a family calculating how to advance themselves in the tribe they’ve been born in, even knowing that it’ll soon look like the pettiest thing in the world.

This book is fun – and I enjoyed it in-between my studies. Will I listen to the next few books? I think so. When exactly that’ll be, I can’t tell you – but it will happen eventually, and I suspect I’ll have an even better time of it. That’s how this genre works – the more you read, the more invested you get, the higher the stakes, the more impressive the spectacle. There really isn’t that much more to say–well, except that, if you see an old monk looking like a kid, punch ’em, they’re most likely an asshole. As a matter of fact, that’s my score for this one: One out of one punched child monk. ‘Tis the highest score I’ve given a book for a loooong time.

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