Soul Eater by Michelle Paver

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Soul Eater by Michelle Paver

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Soul Eater is a wonderfully realised story, part historical fiction and part magical quest. Paver hasn't lost the pace in this third instalment of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Don't miss it. Don't miss the first two instalments either.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: September 2006
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
ISBN: 1842551728

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Living six thousand years ago, after the Ice Age but before the spread of agriculture, Torak and his people understand the natural world. They revere the animals they hunt and never waste an ounce of prey. A deer provides them not only with food, but also with clothes, water carriers, shoes, rope, even needles. Torak and his people also understand spirituality. They see the sacred in the seasons and the cycle of the moon. Torak sees these things even more, for he is a Spirit Walker. He can communicate with animals. He can even, in extremis, live inside them. He can send his three souls to inhabit wild creatures and exist with them, side by side. Torak has a pack-brother, Wolf, his comrade and his guide. Torak and Wolf are bound by ties so fundamental that nothing can keep them apart.

In this third instalment of Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Wolf has been snatched by the Soul-Eaters, mortal enemies of Torak. To save him, and to continue the fight against the evil that threatens the clans and the forest, Torak and his friend Renn must brave the frozen wilderness of the Far North, with its biting cold, its avalanches, its ice bears and ultimately, its Soul-Eaters.

Oh, you know, this is a marvellous book. It really, really is. It's a living, breathing, world of a story, perfectly realised and never missing a beat. There are many pitfalls in these kinds of books. Paver doesn't fall into any of them. There are no anachronisms. Her research is meticulous; Torak's prehistoric world comes vividly to life with startling authenticity, yet there are no self-conscious history lessons to detract from the tale. Wolf is the narrator in some parts, but there's no twee anthropomorphism. It's part of a series, but Soul Eater could very easily stand alone.

Happily too, it's very definitely a children's book. There is none of that "crossover fiction" rubbish here. Soul Eater has all the right ingredients for its young readers; it's pacy, there's plenty of plot and lots of dialogue. Children behave heroically and the distinction between good and evil is well drawn. The language is evocative but admirably direct and the vocabulary is challenging but never strays from the appropriate. Torak, Wolf and Renn are real, emotionally engaging characters. Then there's the final ingredient and the rarest. Paver really cares about this story. The impetus to tell it is clear and strong in every page, every sentence, every word. Children may not recognise this on a conscious level, but they feel it as surely as any adult does.

Soul Eater will appeal to children aged say, between nine and fourteen, depending on their development, level of sophistication and on how much they like to read. Those at the lower end of the age range will love it if they like adventure stories about quests and magic. Those at the upper end will enjoy the wonderful writing and the escapism. It would also make a fantastic text for the home educator. The prose is good enough for stylistic analysis and there are opportunities for discussions across many other disciplines - history, conservation, science, art. Adults will be able to spend an afternoon in some emotionally engaged light reading. I certainly did.

I really can't think of a bad thing to say. If pushed, I felt the twist in the tale at the end of Soul Eater was a little crude. It's both a twist and a setting-up for the next instalment, and would have been better as either one or the other. It's a tiny falter though, and, so thankful am I to Paver for sharing Torak with me, I forgive her without reserve. I do though, remove one half of a Bookbag star.

Buy this book at once, but not before you buy the first two, Wolf Brother and Spirit Walker.

A book set in the present day with a similar blend of magic and realism is Kit's Wilderness by David Almond.

This book was kindly forwarded to Bookbag by the publisher.

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Buy Soul Eater by Michelle Paver at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Soul Eater by Michelle Paver at


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Dave said:

Sounds exactly the sort of thing my son would go for. Might even have to sneak it off him for a read myself. Escapism is SO my thing!

Kate said:

I recently read the first two in this series, having had them recommended - I am eagerly looking forward to reading the third, as I enjoyed the series immensely.

You are right, Jill, in that the series is more of a 'traditional' children's series than say Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books or Pullman's His Dark Materials. They are, nevertheless, an enjoyable read for adults.

Can you lend me this book then? ;)

Monique Dorst said:

It's a lovely series, you're so right! I just finished writing my review for a Dutch magazine and gave it five out of five stars (not something I do everyday, I can tell you). Then I went out on the internet to see if others were just as enthusiastic or whether there was perhaps a flaw somewhere that I had missed, or something of the kind. Glad you like it as much as I do. :)

wathanaketh said:

I can't wait to read this book! When is the fourth book coming out?

Jill replied:

The fourth book will be called Outcast and is due about September this year.