Soulstealer War
The First Mother's Fire
Book I in The Soulstealer War
W.L. Hoffman

Reviewed by Araminta Matthews

We literary folk like to think that Genre fiction is sub-par to literature, often forgetting that some of the best literature has been genre fiction.  Literature is meant to break open the inner eye, allow us to reach a deeper truth within ourselves about life, the universe, and everything, so to speak.  And yet, for some reason, we have convinced ourselves this cannot happen through fantasy -- that somehow, fantasy, the stuff of dreams, is an invalid platform for discussing humanity. Let us not forget that it was Mary Shelley who, with the fantastical creation of Frankenstein's Monster, brought us the philosophical and very mortal quandary:  are men like gods?  Can we create as god creates, and if we do, what will we have left?  Or Robert Louis Stevenson who, with a sci-fi potion, brought us the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde along with the harrowing mirror of our own very real and very human inner demons.  Or, shall we pull out the big guns, and tip our hats to William Shakespeare who brought us A Midsummer Night's Dream which ponders the very nature of life -- what if all of this, life with all of its downward slopes and upward spirals, is a dream and we "hath but slumbered here while these visions did appear"?  What if we really don't have to take life so seriously?
 
Indeed, it is the mark of good genre fiction that it is able to transcend it's foundations and shake the very rafters of existence.  Douglas Adams did it with his Hitchhiker's Guide series, Tolkein did it with his Middle Earth, and now W. L. Hoffman has done it with the beginning of The Soulstealer War series.  Following the path of Kenneth McNary, perhaps a bit autobiographical of the rigid lawyer turned tale-spinning writer, this young student faces unemployment and myriad life quandaries around the nature of life.  Like any true adventurer-at-heart, McNary seeks his answers in nature by attacking the Appalachian Trail.  While traversing the Trail, he is magically transported to an alternate world, a world where humans are the minority.
 
Humans, being the only species on planet Earth to achieve supposed success -- we build buildings, we create machines -- and civilization, have long felt themselves powerful and superior to the world at large.  Why shouldn't we?  Since we transcended the food chain, we haven't had much competition.  But The Soulstealer War draws into question the nature of humanity's alleged superiority by introducing new humanoid creatures who have a Tolkein-esque equality with the planet's few humans (if humans on this new world have equality, that is).  H.G. Wellian creatures thrive on the flesh of the living and survive under the ground in this new world, and a rising power emerges with the mages, dark and light together.  McNary finds himself pitted against the greatest odds similar to the plight of humanity.  His situation spawns the question:  is humanity really this great power?  How should power be wielded -- in other words, what is fair and just for the world, for the people?  These zombie-esque creatures could easily double as our Mr. Hydes in the world, while these great and terrible mages bow to the men of privilege and Dr. Frankensteins of the world.  How does a normal, spiritual, natural human being stack up against these polar opposites, and must he find a place within the spectrum?  Or, can he simply be?
 
The Soulstealer War is a fantastic story.  As a writing professor, I am often hypercritical of overwritten texts.  This story is not only well-constructed, but I might even argue it is underwritten.  By the end, I found myself craving the sequel.  And now, having finished it, I find I can't stop thinking it.  W.L. Hoffman is a great writer and this, his first book, is evidence to that effect.  Fantasy fans of the world will enjoy this story.
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