There are some books that I wish would never end. I wish I could live in their world and follow the adventures of the characters forever. Stealing Symbols & Souls is one of those books. I started reading this book and couldn’t put it down. In fact, the way I got myself to put it down was by reminding myself that if I read it too fast it would be over. And since this is the first (hopefully) in a series of books about Stephanie Blackraven and her friends, there’s nothing yet to follow it. (Hint, Hint, D.T.…)
This is standard urban fantasy set in the modern world that we’re all familiar with. In fact, it’s set near to where I live. Sometimes I even thought I might see Detective Joe Bremer on his rounds or maybe meet Bruce at a coffee shop nearby. And that realism is a lot of the appeal. The places felt real because they weren’t imagined. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the author lives in the Pacific Northwest, maybe even Bellevue or Seattle. And those realistic touches made the book more fun and interesting to read.
But it wasn’t just a story set in my back yard. It was also a fantasy. Although Stephanie would be the first to tell you that it’s not magic it’s science. And that is a cool idea too. It’s not just that magic is real, but that it can be studied like any other science. Studied, tested, and replicated. Stephanie is just the best at this new field of study. She studies the symbols of several different mythologies around the world to find the similarities and then works out what might work and what might not.
One of the things that makes this book stand out for me is the attention to detail, as I mentioned before. And that applies to more than just the locations. It feels like Stephanie’s symbols are something that Sanders has thought about and maybe even mapped out. The way the magic—pardon me, I mean science—works is only hinted at, but it comes across as a fully developed idea. It never occurs to me to question the idea of someone going for their Ph.D. in symbol theory—aka magic, because it’s just so obvious that there needs to be.
World building is often a place where fantasy novels fall down. The authors assume that their magic systems don’t need to make sense, or they can put in any type of creature at any point with no explanation. Sanders doesn’t do that. There are rules to this world, just like ours, and it’s clear that physics, while it allows for “magic,” still applies in the sense that we expect it to.
Magic Isn’t All There Is
But there’s more than just magic in this world, and that adds to the interest too. It’s clear that there is lycanthropy, and that “the authorities” are aware of it. But it’s not just a slap up of a werewolf (or werebear) and done with it. No, we get the full experience of a man turning into a bear and then getting crammed in a minivan. Did it ever occur to you that a minivan with a giant Kodiac bear inside might not corner too well? Until this novel I had never thought of that either.
But Stealing Symbols & Souls Isn’t Perfect
No book is ever perfect, and there were some jarring points in the story. The most jarring for me was in the final battle. The bad guy came across almost too evil. And definitely crazy, but that was probably intentional.
But the biggest flaw in this book is that it’s the only one out there. I want to know about Stephanie Blackraven? What’s up with her uncle? Is he a spook? Is Tom a good guy? And is Tony going to be okay as a wolf? What about the goddess? And most importantly, is Bruce going to be able to get his doctorate now that their lab has been destroyed?
I hope that D.T. Sanders is not spending his spare time doing anything but writing a sequel, and preferably about fifty sequels. I’m sure Sanders has nothing better to do.