Time for another Dutch title, I really don't read enough of them. Ziel van de Duivel (literally The Devil's Soul) is the final part in a trilogy by Adrian Stone. The first part, Profeet van de Duivel, was published via on demand publishing in 2006 and caught the attention of Luitingh Fantasy, one of the two major publishers in the Netherlands in the field of speculative fiction. Even without the benefit of professional editing it was a surprisingly good book. In fact, it is the main reason why I haven't given up on self published material completely. This third volume shows Stone has learnt a few things about writing since then. It's a worthy conclusion to the trilogy.
Since the events depicted in Zoon van de Duivel religious tensions have flared all across the kingdom of Carolia. The two major temples in the realm are arming themselves and a third fraction, the priests of the dark god Cataris are rapidly increasing their following. To keep the order in his kingdom and the king has increased the number of soldiers in his royal guard but even with this show of force he only just seems to be able to keep a handle on the situation. This changes when the Catarists manage to conquer the island of Furka, home to a religious order that produces the magically powerful Furka wood. With the druids slain and this powerful resource at their disposal the Catarists now feel the time to dispose of the king has come.
Marak has picked up his regular job as a monk of Ava, the God providing balance, again but he finds it increasingly difficult to live by his God's rules. Balancing two major religious views is hard enough, with a third added in the mix it becomes almost impossible. When news of Furka's fall reaches him it becomes clear that Carolia is on the brink of a religious war. A war that will challenge Marak's convictions like nothing he's experienced before. A final confrontation with his ancestor the Cataris and his current embodiment and Marak's nephew Valdis is waiting.
Stone changes his approach somewhat in this book. Where in the previous books a lot of the action was pretty focussed on the characters and what was happening to them personally, Ziel van de Duivel delves into the politics of Carolia more deeply. I've seen several comments on the spiritual nature of the previous two parts, in this book the theological differences take a back seat in favour of some pretty brutal power politics. In fact, not even the gods seem to be above this. I must admit the way Stone handles this didn't feel quite right to me. Marak's service to Ava chafes at times as it has throughout the series. Marak is human after all and not immune to temptations and when the strain of the war and the duty he most perform become too much he clearly oversteps the boundaries set by Ava. I feel he gets away with his transgressions against some of the most fundamental principles of his religion a little too easily. When you get right down to to, Ava turns out to be s a pragmatic god.
This is a minor quibble with what is otherwise a good book though. One part I think Stone captured particularly well is the enormous pressure mounted upon Valdis to keep his campaign moving and strike a bow at those Cataris deems a threat. Valdis' sense of urgency drives the story and forces the hand of most of the other characters. He swings back and forth between being a spoilt brat and a classic villain. His unpredictable and violent behaviour keep the story from becoming too predictable. Valdis' methods are far from subtle but they certainly keep everybody on their toes.
Ziel van de Duivel is a very compact book. I suspect Stone and his editor prefer a quite ruthless style of editing. He does not waste any words on exploring the environment, discussing the world beyond Carolia, developing secondary characters or delving very deeply into the theological differences between the various religions featured in the book. It does not indulge in huge battle scenes more than strictly necessary to get the point across. For a fantasy novel it is wonderfully concise, quite a quick read. I appreciate the directness in Stone's writing but I also suspect that many fans of the sprawling multi-volume epic fantasy series would not have minded if Stone branched out a little more. For the most part, this direct approach to story telling works very well for this book. The only area where I think a little more detail would have added to the story is the region of Kijk Uit were the finale of the book is set. It appears to have a history that diverges quite bit from the rest of Carolia.
I've been keeping an eye out for authors of good speculative fiction in Dutch for several years now and Stone is one of the few authors who have managed to convince me this is a worthwhile effort. His first trilogy has a bit of epic, a dash of politics and a lot of spirituality, combined with a straightforward use of language and a focussed plot these books would be a good starting point for anyone to get into the fantasy genre. I can only hope that Stone will continue to pursue a career as a fantasy author. Despite the evident success of this trilogy it must still be mostly a labour of love. It will interesting to hear what Stone intends to do next.
Title: Ziel van de Duivel
Author: Adrian Stone
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
First published: 2010