Soulkeeper by David Dalglish is a nearly perfect representation of a game of Dungeons and Dragons come to life. A fighter, wizard, cleric and a rogue encounter dragons, magic and much more within the pages of Dalglish’s delightful romp. Tension and action set in right from the beginning of Devin the Soulkeeper’s journey, and the overall sense of unease permeates the book throughout.
Soulkeepers are a group of extremely cool coroner/pastors responsible for the literal ascension of souls into heaven. Oh—they also burn the bodies on a pyre when the process is complete, if they were not cool enough already. Every classic fantasy trope can be found in Soulkeeper’s world, called the Cradle, each with its own twist. Faeries are wrought from stone, clerics wear porcelain doll masks and members of the religious order are called Keepers. A new, dangerous wrinkle is added when ancient forces and dangerous magic begins to awaken, placing the entire world in danger and forcing Devin to add “monster slayer” to his list of duties.
Soulkeeper is an excellent companion to rainy March days, despite the fact that Dalglish does not shy away from vividly described gore and violence. In the span of twenty pages, Dalglish allows his characters to enjoy days of uninterrupted, wholesome fun and incredible bouts of depression and anxiety. One might think that such quick swings would cause emotional whiplash, but Dalglish handles the pacing well, creating genuine characters with realistic emotional depth. Each protagonist is goodhearted and caring in a way that is increasingly rare in the era of “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” and I often found myself chuckling or snickering at Dalglish’s lowbrow humor.
Dalglish wears his influences on his sleeve throughout the story, pulling from Lord of the Rings and R.A. Salvatore to craft a complex, highly developed systems that serve as the backbone of his world. As a veteran player of tabletop role-playing games, I can easily imagine that Dalglish either built a system of rules that his world runs on or that he took inspiration from rule intensive games like Magic: The Gathering or Pathfinder. Either way, the result is that the magic of Soulkeeper is grounded and consistent.
I found myself chewing through the story, eager to see the next turn in each subplot. I often wish I could forget all my memories of playing Dungeons and Dragons, just so I could experience the first time playing again. Soulkeeper brought me back to the nostalgia I had during that first game of Dungeons and Dragons: a sense of wonder, exploration and camaraderie difficult to find anywhere else.