The Spirit of Things| Book Review


Teenaged human Fulco grows up the only Hume (human) in a village of Elphen (elves) regarded by some as little more than a pet. He wants to fit in, get the girl of his dreams, and through playing the high intensity sport of Portare gain knowledge of Sapience (magic), and respect. In a world where Humes are seen as greedy and aggressive, being the only Hume in an Elphen village invites all the disdain for the species on his head.

With my reviews I break down three categories: Characters, Setting, and Emotional Payout.
Please note I’ve tried to not include spoilers either.

I had the honor of reviewing an advanced copy of this book last year for YouTube (link below), but hadn’t posted the review here.

Cover of The Spirit of Things by Ben McQueeney

CHARACTERS:

♦ FULCO, the hero and main point of view character, is a highly relatable young man. He feels well-rounded and realistic. The banter between him, his friends, and his family felt natural to the world. Overall, he felt like a well-rounded character. He was likable, but not perfect – a little stubborn, and prone to anger. Being bullied, I think these traits have helped him survive. Our strengths are so often close to our weaknesses, and I suspect we’ll see his determination and passion be beneficial in future books.

♦ GARUM & ILA, the adoptive father and mother, respectively, of Fulco were also very relatable. It was nice to see how supportive his parents were of him, though they were not without flaws either. It was good to see a character that has both parents alive, well, and in a healthy relationship. Like most teens, he’s a bit aggravated and disgusted if he sees any affection between his parents. His father is very encouraging and proud of Fulco at times, and his mother is prone to worrying. 

♦ HYLE & YAMA, the adoptive older brother and younger sister of Fulco, were loving and yet had that relationship that only a sibling can. Hyle would tease and pester his younger brother, and Yama was peevish with Fulco at times, but both were fiercely loyal to their brother when it came down to it.

♦ LYSITHIA is Fulco’s love interest. He is truly smitten with her, and their love as all the innocence of a Bryan Adams song. She adores him in spite of being Hume, but I fear that she will break his heart when push comes to shove. She’s beautiful and flirtatious, but it doesn’t seem her feelings run as deep as Fulco’s.

♦ GARY, VIEGAR, & CHIVVY– a cursed Behemoth (like a werewolf elf), a Trollem (think The Thing meets Luke Cage), and a fat fairy, all end up being valuable allies and are also outsiders. Fulco’s future will probably take him much farther than a Portare tour around the country. The Behemoth curse is transmittable, and people who have it are marked for life to be discriminated against. This curse effects each of the different species in particular ways, for example it makes humans into rabid dogs.
I compared the Trollem to The Thing meets Luke Cage, because – they are much like humans except that they have an extra rock like layer over their skin. It made me think of the impenetrable flesh of Luke Cage, but it’s probably closer to The Thing, since they do appear rock like. This was an interesting take on Trolls.
Chivvy, the tiny fairy cleric is hilarious. From his high pitched voice to perpetual perturbation, this little guy has a lot of personality in a small package.

The characters were relatable and nuanced. One of my complaints with The Sword of Shannara is the unrealistic way that half-elven Shea is accepted by his community – so often in society we are stuck in an Us Vs. Them mentality and are quick to find differences in other people as reasons to distrust them. I felt The Spirit of Things was much more realistic in the way that it dealt with the treatment of Fulco – constantly having to demand respect.


An image meant to evoke Inspr, the horse in this story.

SETTING:
The village of Phenii in the land of Tellusm is where this story takes place.  This forest village uses very creative Treesteads built around giant Araj trees. Fulco and his father (a carpenter) engineered an aqueduct fed from mountain springs to help make the villager’s lives easier. The sense of the forest and stream all around them is intriguing.

There is a richness in the complexity of this world. The trees reminded me of an updated version of the Ewok’s homes in Star Wars. The mist cutting off this land from the rest of the world called to mind Avalon, Fincayra, and Shadowmarch. Not only is their diversity of species, but this realm has a variety of settlements – from ancient ruins cut off by fairies with the Behemoth curse (calling to mind the Stone Men and Valyria from George R. R. Martin) to a steampunk city industrializing a highly volatile gas called “The Mist”.

The author has an impressive map and an excellent video discussing his world building, which I recommend checking out.

Close up of a trio of tiny mushrooms in a lush forest.

EMOTIONAL PAYOUT:

Fulco struggles with being an outsider and being bullied. I think this is something that many people can find relatable. At his core, he’s a good guy and he wants a simple life – two other things that I believe most of us can relate to.
When he gets angry, it feels reasonable. When he feels intensely happy or nervous, it’s also something that feels relatable.  Fulco makes a decision at the end of the book, and has to live with the consequences. I understand why he made the decision, and can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same if I were him, but I appreciate that he had to live with the consequences.

I enjoyed the way the story was handled – I didn’t feel cheated as a reader in anyway. Sometimes with stories, especially when there are twists a la M. Night Shymalan there’s an “a ha” moment that feels like … the author was purposefully leaving out information to befuddle you, and that can leave me feeling frustrated. I did not have that experience with this book.  

Closeup of a well-worn, primitive hammer.

CONCLUSION:
The writing of this book didn’t “feel” like writing – it wasn’t bogged down by purple prose. It flowed well, and the story left me wondering what would happen next. Sometimes in stories I suspect know where the author is going, and while I enjoy being right (who doesn’t?), I didn’t know what to expect in this book. I truly enjoyed finding out what would happen next.

Aaaaand you won’t have to wait as long as I did: the second book, The Whisper of Fire, will be coming out this week. Click here to see my review of The Whisper of Fire (also reviewed as an ARC by me).

Here’s The Spirit of Things on Amazon.

Here’s Ben McQueeney’s website where he has more books. If you sign up for Ben’s newsletter, he has an awesome short story set in this universe available for free, and this book is also available as an audiobook.



NOTE: This was a review of an advanced reader copy.

P.S.: The horse, mushrooms, and hammer were all off of Pixabay. I searched elves, and boy howdy did I get some cringy images.

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