Casket of Souls is the sixth installment in Lynn Flewelling’s long-running Nightrunner series of fantasy novels set in a roughly 17th/18th-century-esque milieu. Whilst recent books have seen protagonists Seregil and Alec travelling widely, Casket of Souls finds them back on familiar territory in the city of Rhiminee, and back to their old ways. Seregil, a very minor nobleman distantly related to the royal family, is an accomplished spy and cat-burglar and, with his young companion and lover Alec, has served the crown loyally for years. However with a war dragging on and food shortages in the city, tensions are running high, and it’s not long before the two young men find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy to usurp the throne. And as old friends of one of the rival claimants, if they don’t find solid evidence of the traitors’ plans they could be arrested themselves.
Added to their problems is a sudden, mysterious plague afflicting the poorer parts of the city; a plague with no known cause or cure. Most of the victims are children, a fact which especially touches the gentle heart of Alec. As the deaths mount up, Seregil and Alec find their loyalties torn between unmasking the conspirators and protecting the city’s children from the plague; even the best nightrunners can’t be in two places at once.
Casket of Souls marks a return to the intrigue and derring-do of the earliest Nightrunner books, as well as the unpleasant magics that are a trademark of Flewelling’s world. The first half unfolds quite slowly, as is somewhat inevitable in this kind of plot where all the pieces have to be put in place before they can make their moves, but the pace picks up as the net tightens around Seregil, Alec and their friends.
It’s not all deadly serious, thank goodness. There’s a particularly fun scene in a gambling house (let’s just say it will please the fangirls no end!), and though a number of characters die, the story lacks the angst and bleakness of recent outings.
The conspiracy plot is perhaps wrapped up a little too hastily, but that may just be because I read the last third of the book so fast! Even though you know it’s all going to work out OK in the end (Flewelling has more sense than to kill off characters with such an ardent following), there are enough deaths that the threat to our heroes is palpable and you have to keep reading to be absolutely sure.
Overall I think this may be my favourite book of the series so far. Such a pity then that there will only be one more!
When I found out the title of this latest book, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Lynn had already blurbed my own novel The Alchemist of Souls, which seemed coincidence enough. However it seems there’s some kind of psychic bond going on between us, because although the particulars are very different, there are an awful lot of parallel elements between the two books, from the conspiracy plotline to the acting troupe with their new theatre, and of course the magic hinted at by the title. What’s more, I know Lynn had just about finished revising her own book when I sent her mine, so any similarities are entirely coincidental, honest!