I’m always looking forward to reading new vampire stories, so when I stumbled upon this book it felt like an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Here I review Soul Bound, an urban fantasy novel by Ella M. Lee. As always, this review contains spoilers. Some are safely hidden behind white text, but some other might be inferred, so read at your own peril. Most importantly though, read this book if you like urban fantasy, but be warned that it contains several possible triggers, such as rape, gore and violence.
Arianna Ward‘s recent past hasn’t been one of the best. To be honest, it hasn’t been good at all: she has spent the past year as a prisoner of Franklin, a vicious vampire, and she’s about to be sold at an auction, possibly to an even meaner bidder. The winner of the auction turns out to be a demon, who is set on using her in what seems to be an impossible mission: rescuing an item from a nest full of angry, hungry vampires.
In this verse, vampires are proper creatures of the night: ugly predators with no humanity left. It is a refreshing diversion from hundreds of books in which they are nothing but gentle, repenting people with a slight need for blood and a sunlight allergy. These vampires bite and rape, they torture and kill. They are scary, and the humans that come in contact with them break down (or die) pretty quickly. The first time we meet Arianna, as she’s walking to Franklin’s car, she seems like cattle going to the slaughterhouse. She’s heavily traumatized, hopeless from a year of torture and pain, and she’s learned that her only way to survive is to be as passive as she can.
Beginnings are tough beasts, and this one is no different. A lot is thrown the reader’s way, to the point that I felt that too much exposition was conveyed in the first couple of chapters. This, along with my own horror at what Arianna had to endure by Franklin’s hand (and fangs), almost made me decide to pause the reading.
But boy, am I glad I kept going, because soon after Arianna and Franklin enter the building Arianna sees Ren for the first time. Their gazes meet and her first thought is that he is beautiful, for a vampire, with what she defines an otherwordly appearance. Well, that’s definitely true. Vampires are scared of him, and he doesn’t hesitate hurting one that’s about to make a meal of our Arianna. Don’t worry though, he did it to protect what’s going to be his property at the end of the night. He makes quite the impression on Arianna, and the same can be said for me. Sadly, I’ve read too many books in my life not to know he was going to be the romantic interest. I’m not sure whether this is an issue with how the book was written or not, I just wish I had the chance to suppress my intuition for while in order to enjoy this book properly.
But let’s go back to the story. Ren takes Arianna, whom he decides to rename Ari, lion in Hebrew, to his flat in New York and reveals his own truth: he’s a demon, and if you read my bio you’ll know how much this little information made me squeal with delight.
Hey, people have biases.
He’s not one of those demons who come from Hell and want to damn people for all eternity –on that note, please, o’ mighty authors, create more creatures like Algaliarept (the Hollows) or Wrath (Kingdom of the Wicked) for me!–. In fact he comes from another dimension with its own sets of rules (one of them being that his kind doesn’t fare well with rules and has a penchant for trading) and the only reason he’s rescued Arianna from being potentially maimed by a new vampire owner is to sell her to stronger and possibly meaner vampire owners who are going to maim her.
Truth be told, his mission is one I can agree on, and given how sweet and kind he’s been with Arianna, I’d have said yes to him in a heartbeat. Thankfully, Arianna has a lot more sense than me, though it comes from her experience with vamps and a lot of scars. For those of you wondering why he’s not going to do the job himself, let it be known that there is a truce between vampire royalty and demon royalty (did I mention he’s a prince?), so he needs someone –in this case Arianna– to do the dirty work for him. But don’t worry, Ren is sending her with a whole bunch of cool powers and something called a soul bond to share his knowledge and make her more like him.
Things are bound to go well, right? Nope. Wrong. Very, very wrong. These vamps truly are vicious and Arianna almost dies on the job. This is the point where I get 100% on board with the Ari-Ren ship: he saves her, frees her, and unbounds her so that she doesn’t have to die for him and his family. Which, if you ask me, is a true act of love. And also the reason why Arianna decides to keep fighting for him, because he’s totally worth it. That, and because she wants to finally crash some vampire’s skull for good.
I’m not going to blame her.
Three are the things that I liked the most about this story. The first one is the writer’s ability to create tridimensional, complete main characters. They all, good and evil ones alike, feel real and completely believable. Fangs, claws and wings aside, these are people you could meet on your evening walk. They could be your odd, always-angry next door neighbors, or the shy girl that walks past you while you’re waiting for the bus. They are believable, and what’s not to love about that?
Good characters make a story good, which is the second point of this small list of mine. The plot works, every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly, and the execution is almost flawless, with the sole exception of a couple of uninteresting secondary characters that could have been omitted without the story suffering for it. Tomas, I’m talking to you: you only exist to make Arianna fear a bigger, badder vamp named Weston, so what’s the point? Why do I need to know you’re blond and vicious, but not a royal, if it doesn’t lead to something else? Oh, well, maybe you’ll come back in a later book, who knows.
Minor slip-ups aside (there’s also a weird phrasing at the beginning of chapter 7), this book is well crafted, which means –third point there!– that it is packed with tension, and tension is what makes us readers want to turn the page (or swipe it) and run towards the end. This is the reason I stayed up till almost 3 a.m. to finish the story and felt extremely good about it. At least until I had to get up three hours later to get the kids ready for school.
Soul Bound is an awesome novel. It is undeniable. But while it works well as the first book of a series, in my opinion it would work even better as a standalone novel, because the finale we got… Well, I’m happy with it. I’m glad both Ren and Arianna got what they wanted, and I’m content with imagining she’s going to become some sort of vampire slayer and rescuer of humans and that he’s going to be at her side because they both chose to merge their paths in life and be together. Choice is a big theme in this novel, and I’m really glad both of them were able to get their free will back.
And now, ratings. 8.5/10 is my final vote for Soul Bound. I’m definitely going to buy the second book of the series when it comes out.