Author: Heather Brewer
Publisher: Dial Books
Published: June 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 394
Genre(s): Fantasy, YA
Date Read: February 14, 2013
Kaya has lived her life knowing that she and her parents are fugitives, that their entire existence depends on discretion and secrecy. They are on the run from the ruling council of Tril, the Zettai Council run by the most powerful Barrons in the land. The Barrons are the warrior class, the highest of the Skilled and the most revered; every Barron has a single Healer bonded to them, that is the way it has always been and should always be according to council law, one Barron and one Healer and nothing else. After losing their respective Healers to the War and falling in love, Kaya's parents knowing they were breaking this law went in to hiding and raised Kaya, born a Healer, to know and hate these traditions. For 15 years this life of secrecy has worked, for 15 years they have been free in a way, living life hidden amongst the Unskilled who know nothing of the Barrons and Healers or their Council.
But suddenly and inexplicably and without any warning the war is on Kaya's front door and her father must give them all away in order to save not only Kaya's life but their entire village. In exposing them Kaya is discovered and is summoned, on pain of death for her parents if she disobeys, to Shadow Academy to be trained as a Healer, forced into a Bond with a Barron she does not know, and made to follows strict rules of Protocol that her parents had spent her entire childhood trying to keep her away from. Kaya chaffs under the rules of Protocol, unable to accept the passive, dangerous role of the traditional Healer, she does not understand why she should not be allowed to defend herself, why she should have to rely on her Barron to protect her at all times and at any cost. So she sets out to get herself trained no matter what the cost to herself, her family, or the people she asks for help.
This was the book that prompted me to bring up world building last Wednesday. I did something that I keep telling myself not to do while reading a book; I looked at the GoodReads reviews, I already learned that doing that does nothing but colour my opinion of the book as I continue to read it and yet I did it again with this book anyway. I swear lesson learned this time, promise. It was this review in particular that ended up being the route of my problems. Up until that point I honestly hadn't been bothered by the world building because I usually give the first book in a series the benefit of the doubt that further books will continue to expand the world. The problem lies in that this reviewer and all the other reviewers who mentioned poor world building are right. Brewer does not lay enough of a foundation here in Soulbound, so I have little hope that the rest of the series will be able to sufficiently make up for what is lacking here. We get a general description of what it means to be Skilled and Unskilled, but we get absolutely no information about why those labels came to be, who created them or why people like Kaya's parents haven't revolted and tried to change things. We get told about a war that is suppoed to be devouring Tril, meanwhile the only people who know about this war are the Skilled, and we get very little information about who the Big Bad is or what his motives are. I understand that a lot of this might be able to be attributed to the narrator, which in this case is the main character who has been sheltered from all of this information and so is probably unreliable; but I don't know, I feel like Brewer didn't even bother trying to world build, she envisioned Kaya to supposedly be this game changing character who is completely against the current hierarchy, but she really never does any real hard questioning or digging so how can she be expected to change anything when she doesn't understand any of it? Am I the only one thinking that way?
Another thing that bothered me about this book? The buzz words highlighted on the back: deeply romantic adventure, heart-stopping action and impossible to forget heroine; my problem with these buzzword is that none of them are true. I find nothing at all romantic about any of the relationships in this book, they're both unhealthy. We're told that Kaya's relationship with Trayton is this huge romantic thing, sure Trayton does a couple of nice, sweet, romantic things, but for every one of those moments there are another two-three where he's either manipulating Kaya, belittling her, abusing her, or neglecting her, and she lets him do it even though she's supposed to be this independent spitfire. Forgive me if I don't see the deep romance there. And don't get me started on her relationship with Darius, he's just as bad as Trayton especially when you get to the end of the book and find out he's been lying to her the entire time. Although if you're observant, which Kaya is not, at ALL, you'll have the big twist figured out pretty much the first time Darius is introduced, I know I did.
As for heart-stopping action, yes there were some nice action scenes thanks to the sword fighting, but I wouldn't class any of the battle scenes as heart-stopping not by any means, especially when the narrator herself spends most of the time worrying about not cutting herself on her own katana. Which brings me to the claim that Kaya is impossible to forget, from the cover I was expecting her to be the ultimate badass, I was left highly disappointed as she turned out to be full of stereotypes; yes she wants to learn to defend herself instead of relying on Trayton to defend her, very feminist, very independent I applaud her for that. She actually achieves that goal by the end, except she still does need rescuing at some point in pretty much every one of her fights. And honestly, she was damn whiny. For how much emphasis was put on battles and war and breaking Barron protocol, Kaya spent an inordinate amount of time angsting over her supposedly romantic feelings for the two male leads, even though she self identified as not being interested in boys when she was first introduced.
If I don't actually stop and think about all of those things then I can enjoy the book. I hope that the next book in the series is narrated by a different character, I'd much prefer to see things from either Darius's point of view or Maddox's they seem to be the most interesting characters to me. I know that's not going to happen though because this series is the Kaya show for better or for worse. I really hope that Brewer delves more into world building in the next book, because I think that she could have a really, really interesting world going here and I want to know more about the mythology. There is culture blending galore you've got names like Patrick and Samantha mixed with names like Trayton and Darius and Sharya; Japanese katanas and European Chain mail, the cover depicts leather armour but there's never mention of any in the actual story, they just all seem to be dressed like ninjas are always depicted.
Overall, even though I have complaints, I will continue reading the series out of sheer curiosity to see just where she is going with all of this.