- TITLE: The Weight of Souls
- AUTHOR: Bryony Pearce
- PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
- PUBLICATION DATE: 1st August 2013
- RATING: ★★★★
Yet another Strange Chemistry title that proves the team of little robots (Angry Robot YA…!) are good at what they do, The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce is a meaningful book that explores a handful of difficult themes without any extra baggage or heaviness that would—given the subject matter—make for a gloomy book. I don’t like gloom, so I was a teeny bit concerned that the book would be all death, death, death.
Taylor Oh is struggling at school. It’s not because of the half-hearted racist bullying (the nature of the bullying seems to be that her race is actually irrelevant, but is useful ammunition nevertheless; Taylor is the target, not her race) or the fact that the In Crowd make her life hell. It’s not even the fact that she misses her mother, who died in an accident that put her father in a wheelchair.
It’s all the damn dead people.
Getting anywhere for Taylor is like running a gauntlet; she must not allow ghosts to touch her, else they will transfer a Mark. Then, once Marked, Taylor must discover who murdered the ghost in question. Usually, the ghost will shout and point and then Taylor must then brave the murderer and touch them in return, thus ridding herself of the Mark and giving it to the killer.
Then the Darkness comes.
Taylor doesn’t like to watch when the ancient, horrible Darkness—the power of Anubis, the Egyptian god of death—comes to claim its ‘victims’. If she does, it reminds her of the dangerous fact that, should she fail to Mark the murderer, she will be the one running from the Darkness.
It almost got her once and she still hasn’t forgotten the feeling of watching the shadows slowly begin to encroach, moving through the light and reaching towards her…
Instead, Taylor focusses entirely on her ghostly encounters and does what she can to avoid the Darkness, sending murderers who would otherwise walk free to their deaths. If that’s what happens—Taylor doesn’t really know.
So with crappy grades and a single friend in the world still by her side, Taylor doesn’t try to pretend she’ll manage to walk away from school with anything more than a life sentence at McDonalds. All she does is try to survive: the bullying; the paranoia that a ghost will blindside her—especially if she’s already Marked; two Marks would be more than she can handle—whilst she’s trying to focus on class; the dread of returning home to a father who, despite having seen the Marks and knowing that her mother carried the same curse, tries to convince her that the ghosts are hallucinations and she is simply suffering from a medical condition.
But then someone at school dies—Justin; the guy who made her life hell by barely lifting a finger, preferring instead to let his minions do the work. The problem is, Justin doesn’t know who killed him. In fact, he insists it wasn’t murder. But, Taylor’s curse is never wrong, and so she must try to untangle the mystery surrounding Justin’s death, all the while desperately trying to avoid another Mark.
As she investigates, Taylor begins to realise that there is more to Justin’s death. Something sinister lurks beneath the façade or normalcy at school, and whatever it is, Taylor must discover it and immerse herself within its dark heart in order to pass on her Mark. Little does she know that justice wants to be served, regardless of the ramifications: there is no escape from the Darkness. Taylor will find that in the end, she must make a choice and that Justin might not be the boy she thought he was.
The Weight of Souls is a good book that explores bullying subtly and therefore gets to the heart of the issue succinctly. Taylor’s race is refreshing in YA fantasy—especially urban fantasy (never mind the fact that there is a Chinese model on the cover and the protagonist is half-Chinese, instead of the wrong ethnicity or a total lack of model whatsoever, electing instead for graphics). I’ve read so few books with protagonists of a different ethnicity and it’s a pity! In relation to Taylor’s race, I feel that Pearce demonstrates that with bullying, it’s not always about race or weight or anything else that could mark a person as “different” (though of course, sometimes it is precisely that, but with the characters of the bullies and the surrounding story, this doesn’t feel as though it’s the case), but rather the fact that these things become ammunition for the bullying.
Sometimes people are bullied simply because the bully chose them. Taylor is bullied because she is Taylor.
In The Weight of Souls, this is precisely the kind of bullying that’s explored (in my opinion: I wouldn’t like to assume). The topic of bullying is difficult to explore properly, especially as in a great many YA novels, whether it is the central topic or not, there is some bullying directed towards the protagonist (usually someone with low self-esteem, or something similar—in this vein, I’d love to see a guy with low self-esteem in YA urban fantasy, as in really love) yet this is simply a passing subplot; like a shower in the middle of the day that passes with the clouds. So to see realistic and directed bullying was different and informative.
On an exciting note, in the coming weeks, Bryony Pearce will be contributing a guest blog as part of the Identity in SFF series, where she talks about bullying and identity. So look out for that.
In the meantime: pre-order The Weight of Souls. It is an excellent book that presents likeable characters thrown in with people with utterly hideous personalities, which very skilfully presents an interpretation of how high school is and how people are. People are unkind; fact.
Essentially, The Weight of Souls is in fact a much happier book than I was expecting—the ending was satisfying and teasing at the same time, and given that it is left open, I would love to see another of Taylor’s adventures, especially if she isn’t alone.
A thrilling and pacy read that tackles so much with so little effort. Seamless and slick and completely enjoyable to read.