Some people believe that love is the most powerful force in the universe. It’s a nice thought but, when you think about it, there are plenty of obstacles love still struggles to cross, including death and time.
Michael Easton and Christopher Shy explore this and a few other things besides in Soul Stealer. When a mighty warrior is hacked to pieces by his even mightier nemesis, his wife is killed too. Unable to accept the finality of her passing, her father pieces his son-in-law back together again, like a dark-age Frankenstein. Reanimated, the warrior embarks on a journey to reclaim his wife’s soul in the hope that he can bring her back too. On the way he treads on the toes of a few gods, who have other plans for him, and ends up travelling through time into the modern world.
The story is haunting and quiet. Mostly narrated from the first person by the warrior, with occasional speech from others, the claustrophobic nature of his world is deeply apparent. Living in a body that isn’t really his own and searching the afterlife for a lost love, he’s a tragic hero of epic proportions.
This claustrophobic ambiance is augmented by Shy’s stunning illustration. His photo-realistic painting is bathed in murky light and shadow, with characters appearing and withdrawing from the shadowy backgrounds like actors performing on a barren, murky stage. When the scenery does poke through, it’s made of light and shadow – the modern era, for example, is illustrated with the dark shadows of tower blocks and bright lights of neon signs.
All this rolled together makes for an admittedly stunning book, especially on the art front. We felt the story didn’t gel quite so well, which is a bit of a shame. Its pace is a little too pedestrian and the warrior is hard to engage with, lonely as he is, making his way through the torment and alienation of lost love, death and rebirth. The art doesn’t actually help, despite its eloquence, throwing a veil of foggy distance between reader and characters.
Perhaps the proposition is too grand – there’s something mythical and epic about the story but without the weight of a sturdy pantheon of gods and heroes, this feeling of isolation only continues. Instead, the story draws on a range of ancient religious, mythological and legendary figures and concepts, from Egyptian to Greek, as if to lend their weight to the background. But in this reader’s mind at least, it only blurred and diluted the impact of the story.
It’s the failed promise of a mythic-scale human drama that’s disappointing. Incorporating fantasy and humanity in equal measure is something of grand and ambitious project, and it’s a fabulously complex effort, especially given the superiority of Shy’s artwork. But something doesn’t quite fit together and the borrowing of mixed mythologies just didn’t work for me.