Well, that's it. The end is here.
As I suspected, the second half of Souldancer ramps up the action and the story's reach. Although the book already started hinting at bigger threads and plot elements, the first half was a tighter story. I'm perfectly fine with that, by the way. I think it makes great storytelling.
At the same time, I feel I have to correct something I said in my piece about the first half. Now, I can't remember my exact wording, but I may have implied the story was complex, which carries the connotation of "difficult to understand or complicated." I don't think that's exactly accurate because, broken down into its components, the basic plot is pretty linear and straightforward (notwithstanding more esoteric interpretations of the book.) Sure, you may forget who this guy is or what is that thing doing there or what was the difference between the Serapis and the Exodus, but that's pretty much it. I kept reading it even when I momentarily forgot or missed a key reference and, in the end, it didn't make much of a difference.
There is, it's true, a superabundance of names and references, but if you are reading it on Kindle, ctrl + f and the Glossary are your friends. Speaking of which, I believe the Glossary should have a few entries more. At least two, one for Nesshin and another for Shaiel. Both of them are presented to the reader in a somewhat abrupt manner, especially Shaiel, a name that doesn't turn up in Nethereal but here appears as the "Ruler of the Void" —not a minor title. I believe that the confusion some readers may have expressed may be due to the undisclosed or obscured relationship between the triad of gods that is the cornerstone of Souldancer: Zadok, Thera, and Shaiel. On the other hand, in Nethereal, the relation was dyadic (with hints to a third party, though) —Zadok and Thera, as in:
"[Malachi] remembered the suns' namesakes in Nesshin myth: father and daughter eternally annihilating and returning into each other."
Nethereal, page 13.
Still, as I have said, I understood it in the end anyway, so no biggie.
About the plot, well, you'd probably want to follow Nathan Housley's posts, but I think I can deal with the story's ending.
My theology may be a bit rusty, but I think I got the important references. Neimeier, if he wants to chime in, will comment and tell me how wrong I am.
I cannot but think the ending represent the intervention of our world's theology in the Soul Cycle's universe. And I'm talking about Christianity here.
For those who haven't read the last chapters, this is the gist of it: Xander and Tefler find themselves before the Zadok, the All-God (or something that looks like that,) in a place known as Kairos. Kairos was one of the Ancient Greek words for Time, but not in the sense of a physical quantity but "opportune moment" or "the proper time for [something to happen]" In Souldancer, Kairos is described as "time as the gods know it," and pay attention to the wording: gods, not God (Xander is one of the few characters that uses the word God, more about that later.) A few hundred pages later, Smith the Clockboy describes it as "sacred time that touches eternity." Not eternity per se, but touches it.
So Xander is in Kairos, trying to save Astlin, and... well, he kills God, with a sword named Elohim. Now, killing God seems difficult, and, in fact, once Zadok/Szodrin is "killed" (he returns, though,) he is not named God anymore but god. And what drove Xander to such blasphemous actions? He seemed a bit possessed, somehow, and by a force from outside the world.
Xander hears the words like thunder that heralds rain.
"There is another way. Even the White Well is a shadow that cannot conquer the darkness. Allow true light to shine upon this world."
Now, that's no way to speak to a god! In any event, Zadok seems shocked, but answers:
"How shall this light above all known good enter our shadow play?"
Xander: "'Its bearers wait for you to admit them," Xander says, his heart swelling with a conviction he can't explain.
Beyond his own mind; in the upper darkness where Zadok once reigned, Xander sees a new light descending. [...]
The blue star falls like desert rain, finally quenching Xander's lifelong thirst for the sublime.
"Szodrin's [Zadok's] death made an opening to the world beyond the world," Thera says to Tefler. "Astlin escaped and brought the true light back with her."
And in the epilogue:
"Honestly, does haruspicy even work anymore? The gods are gone."
"so has the Righteous One brought forth the Zadokim."
And what are the Zadokim?
"Souls who [...] have returned from the light beyond the cosmos."
As I said, my theology is rusty, but I recognize a deicide when I see one, especially one that allows the Light to enter a world whose creator (Zadok, now demoted to "god") describes it as a "shadow play." A light that quenches a thirst for the "sublime" and can actually vanquish evil, unlike the White Well.
The point here, I presume, is that Zadok had the function of a Demiurge, and then is stabbed by a sword conveniently named Elohim, a Hebrew word for (among other things) God. And that happens in a place named Kairos, which means the correct/opportune time for... ¿God?
After stabbing him, Xander actually outsmarts Zadok in a debate, even though he has no idea from where his words come from. Then Zadok allows a Light from "beyond this world" to enter his creation, a light that transcends kairos (which touched eternity, but wasn't eternity) and infuses Xander (the only proper monotheist in a world full of heathens) with a desire to save as many souls as possible.
That theological upturning, which causes a Götterdammerung of sorts, changes the nature of Souldancer's setting. Before that moment (before "kairos"), the setting had been somewhat "broken," Manichean, and closed, with good and evil having substance and fighting in an apparent eternal and protracted fight. Now that the unnamed light from "beyond the world" has entered, the old gods are gone, Zadok and Thera stand aside, a Good that is superior to "all known good" enters, and the "test" (Creation) is corrected; the judgment of Zadok is averted, the test of souls fixed, Good restored to its proper place, and evil goes to the Void, literally and metaphorically I think.
Really, that's pretty much the "divine invasion" of Christianity, I believe. Now, I do not know if I'm tripping balls here, or if what I'm writing here about the plot is common knowledge or an esoteric easter egg or something, but I doubt everything I have pointed out is a coincidence.