This self-published book won the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

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Caldan is an orphan who has been taken in by a monastery. There he works hard and sometimes studies alongside the privileged sons and daughters of nobles who come to learn many arts, including Crafting, Swordplay, Dominion and Alchemy.

An accident leads to his expulsion from the monastery and he finds himself alone in a cut-throat city. To stay alive he has to make the best of the patchwork skills he learned at the monastery. As he tries to find his feet, an invasion force is preparing an assault on the city that will once more throw his life into chaos.

I have mixed feelings about this novel.

I’m constantly in awe of authors who self publish and make it. The world building was great and the system of magic even better. The problem was that I couldn’t identify with the characters – generally a deal breaker for me.

A Crucible of Souls is the “coming of age” type of fantasy novel and Caldan is your typical naive youth who is bound to make ten cringeworthy mistakes before breakfast. Perhaps it says more about me than this book, but that naivety annoyed me. It was also slightly boring. Did Caldan develop as the novel went on? In terms of skills, sure. In terms of character? I don’t think so.

Hogan compounded this error by packing Caldan in cotton wool. He never let things get really bad for the boy. He’d set up an awful situation where things could get very hairy, then sidestep it. I always breathe a sigh of relief when a character escapes a noose, but sometimes the noose has to catch them in order for the suspense to work.

Having said that, towards the end of the book I became more interested and if I’m honest I will probably read the next book in the series. If nothing else, I’d like to find out what happens to some of the minor characters who I found more interesting. I am also curious to learn the reason Caldan’s parents were killed. But I wouldn’t be urging too many people to follow my lead.

I’m going to give it a 3.5/5.

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