Today's book review is Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple.
Adam Stemple is a familiar name to me as a musician, so I picked this book up on a whim at OVFF to see how he was at writing novels. He tells a compelling story about addiction that sounds like it comes from personal experience, and spins a fairly convincing metaphor of magic through music. A pretty solid, enjoyable book, up until the end, with a series of events that break both the believability of the story and the identification with the characters. Perhaps there is supposed to be some message in the ending that I am missing, but I just found it profoundly nasty, undermining the rest of the book.
Douglas McLaren begins the story as a heroin addict in Minneapolis who burns his bridges with his fellow addicts by quitting. Desperate, he takes up his Scottish grandmother's promise from years ago that he could stay with her any time, and manages to get himself to Scotland with no money. He's off to a good start with his grandmother and a promising career as a busker -- his act is to make up a song on the spot about a passerby and sell a cassette tape of it for a few quid, and he's really good at it -- when he starts to get himself into trouble. First, a woman who identifies herself only as Aine commissions a song, and pays him with a vial of white powder, apparently heroin. After a couple of days he breaks down and shoots up with it, only to discover that it's not heroin at all. At first it appears to have had no effect, but then he realizes he can see things he couldn't before -- faeries. He starts to learn about faeries, almost gets himself killed by the Fachan, almost gets himself killed by Father Croser, a crazy human priest who can also see faeries and decides that since Douglas' ability to see faeries didn't come from God it must be from the devil, and Douglas doesn't go along with Croser's plans to blind Douglas to spare him the curse of seeing the faery world. Douglas discovers that his ability to write songs for people has power over faeries. Then Aine ends up captured and killed by Father Croser, and Douglas learns some of the true extent of his powers when he brings Aine back to life by singing the song he wrote for her earlier. Aine, who is really the Faery Queen, plans to reward Douglas for his gift by killing him, because he can't be allowed to keep the secret of her true name. Douglas escapes with the help of Martes, an Unseleigh creature of some sort that he had bargained with earlier, only to end up the captive of the Good Neighbors, as the nasty faeries are called, who offer him the choice of joining their cause against Aine or dying. He manages to escape, only to discover that someone has brutally murdered his grandmother, and he pretty much loses it. He has almost opened the gate to faery when Father Croser jumps him and mortally wounds him, and then Aine arrives and kills Croser. With his last gasp, Douglas manages to cross through the gate into faery and suddenly is a wizard so powerful he can defeat Aine and her entire army with a thought, but he uses his power to change a person's soul by changing their song to change himself into someone whose only only goal is everlasting revenge on Aine for ordering the death of his grandmother. And just when it couldn't get more unsatisfying, the very last event in the book reveals that Aine is pregnant, by Douglas in the night of passion that was Aine's reward for his saving her life. So, just when the ending has managed to destroy everything worthwhile about the book, we're handed the ambiguous possibility that a child might come along and catalyze another episode in the story.
A good beginning and middle with a real train-wreck of an ending. It was well on its way to at least an 8, but the ending leaves me feeling generous to give it a 5.