It’s likely no coincidence that the events of Chapter 25 landed right at the midpoint of Souldancer. This is one of those chapters that relentlessly hammers the reader. You get the first inkling of what full blown souldancer on souldancer combat might look like. You get another layer of souldancer power, clairaudience, shown in explicit detail. You are shown what a great guy Cook really is. And to top off that layer cake you get the frosting of the first overt acknowledgement of Xander’s love for Astlin coupled with Astlin’s first hint that she might be lovable.Souldancer is definitely a book of monsters. Some of the monsters are ugly on the inside and the outside. Irallel, the waterdancer, looks like a drowned woman and has the spirit to match. Some are only ugly on the inside – in my mind Hazeroth is as pretty as he is foul. And some of the monsters are only ugly on the outside – Cook might look like a sack of potatoes that just lost a fight against the ugly stick, but he’s solid gold inside. This constant refrain of larger-than-life characters really helps elevate Souldancer’s game. It serves as a constant reminder that we’re treading on ground that is unlike the standard cut-and-paste genre fiction.
Of course, Neimeier doesn’t let up the pace in Chapter 26 either. The relatively simple stealing of the Kerioth gives way to the first real showdown with Hazeroth, and what a showdown that was. The combined might of two souldancers backed up by Xander’s formidable talent are barely enough to scratch the guy. It’s only the timely intervention of Sulaiman that allows them to escape certain doom and get to the Steersman Vault.And again, the threat level is ratcheted up when it takes all four souldancers to put down one left-over security guardbot. That little fight reveals a little something about poor Irallel, but it also highlights that this universe is in many ways a shadow of what it once was. Or perhaps it demonstrates how formidable the Guild was at the height of its power. One basic warbot took the souldancers combining Voltron-like to defeat?
That really puts the events of Nethereal in perspective. We knew the Guild was tough, but this raises the bar considerably.