We here at the Puppy of the Month Book Club have a knack for picking the first book of a series. We've done it with The Swan Knight's Son, The Chronicles of Amber, catskinner's book, and Nethereal. It's high time we revisited at least one of those universes, and none of them are as deserving as Brian Neimeier's. It was the very first Puppy of the Month, and it only took ten months to get to the sequel.
That's really too long.
Not just because it's too good of a series to languish that long, but because this is a challenging series to read. Frankly, Nethereal kicked my butt. Brian's writing is deceptively dense and is thoroughly riddled with multiple references and layers of meaning that completely escaped my typically shallow reading. It wasn't until Frisky and Nate oined in the conversation and started pulling on threads that I realized how knotted were the stitches that made up the Nethereal sweater. They introduced me to whole new dimensions in reading, and pushed me to approach the Book Club - and my other writing - with considerably more intellectual rigor, and to devote more time and thought to my own posts both here, at my blog, and over at Castalia House.
Consider the prologue to Souldancer. At its surface it's the story of two characters meeting in an inter-planar nexus of time. I know that it's largely unrelated to the work that follows, and that only because I listen to Brian's podcast, Geek Gab, I don't actually believe that it has no relation to the story. Having experienced Nethereal, I dig deeper, and this is what I surmise:
Almeth Elocine is a Gen who refuses to leave his people "in thrall to an upstart fiend." He intends to rewrite history, and his human friend Cleolin Redbeard has come to stop him.
Although vague and cryptic, this short prologue reminds us of how the universe of Souldancer operates. Above all things is the white well, from which the substance of life flows. This substance, prana, can be shaped into Workings leaving us with this universe's equivalent of mana and spells. The prana flows down through the universe, through the mundane world of the Middle Stratum, which contains the spheres of the planets, to be captured in the Void. We are reminded that the last of the Gen were trapped inside a level of Hell, bound there by a pact with a demon. We are also reminded that the Guild runs things in the Stratum through a near monopoly of Workings. Through that monopoly, they exercise near total control over the ships that ply the aether between spheres.
It's a complex world, and one that requires reference to the glossary for first time readers, and for those coming back into it after a long absence. While the characters and action come to life during a casual read, this is a book that becomes so much more richly rewarding for those willing to put in a little effort.
I'm glad I've got a few friends to share this with, because I'm not sure I could go it alone.