Soul Stealer Review by Alison Armstrong
Synthesizing Greek and Egyptian mythology with Jungian archetypes, dream motifs, and themes of contemporary urban alienation, Michael Easton has collaborated with illustrator Christopher Shy to create the intoxicatingly beautiful graphic novel Soul Stealer. Timeless themes of love, loss, damnation, and redemption are given an intensely personal, surrealistic approach in this hypnotic fusion of literature and art.
Like his previous literary work, Eighteen Straight Whiskeys, Soul Stealer showcases Michael Easton 's power to evoke intense, often painful, emotions, but whereas a grittily ironic humor permeated his earlier book, Soul Stealer is steeped in illuminating gradations of darkness. The fiercely jagged prose of the battle scenes gives way to the austerely eloquent language of sorrow. Echoing these shifts from violence to grief, Christopher Shy's illustrations flicker with blood-red fury or glimmer with blue-green despair. Brilliant shards of color momentarily pierce the murky depths, creating an effect of candle-lit stained glass. As in the work of poet/artist William Blake, words and image merge to create visionary landscapes of dazzling yet terrifying grandeur.
"Grief is the price we pay for love," Kalan, the hero of the story, reminds us, and like a ceaseless nightmare, grief is an ever present fixture of the novel. Yet despite the pervasiveness of grief, Soul Stealer, like its hero, never loses faith in the magic of love.
Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo , "If I cannot bend the Higher Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions". This epigram from Virgil's Aeneid, echoed in the conversation between Kalan and a sinister preacher, expresses the embittered yet defiant optimism of the book, the driving force behind Kalan's desperate quest, as, tormented by grief for his murdered wife, Oxania, Kalan journeys through Heaven and Hell, past and future, to retrieve her soul from the clutches of death. Kalan's search for Oxania is as unending as his immortality and his desire for vengeance against her killer, the hulking minotaur Apis.
Throughout this quest to reunite with his beloved and avenge her murder, Kalan is continually confronted by his nemesis, Apis, who, like Kalan, travels throughout time, seeking revenge. Kalan kills Apis, then Apis kills Kalan, but neither ever truly dies. Shadows of each other, their fates are interlinked, like Jekyll and Hyde or Dorian Gray and his monstrous, perverse portrait. Both, in a sense, are fragmented aberrations. Apis was an aberration at birth, the spawn of bull and human, not quite man, not quite animal, but a grotesque blend of each. Kalan became an aberration after being gored to death by Apis. Brought back to life, his mangled body parts reassembled and sewn together by Oxania's father, Strabo, Kalan is a patchwork quilt of flesh. Though as handsome as Apis is repulsive, Kalan, like Apis, is a composite creation.
The resurrection and gruesome reassembly of Kalan's shattered body is reminiscent of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and of the Egyptian myth involving Osiris. According to Egyptian myth, the god Osiris was murdered and his body hacked to pieces by his brother Seth. Isis, Osiris' wife, found the severed pieces, put them back together, and brought Osiris back to life. The gods Osiris and Seth, fittingly, play major roles in Kalan's saga, ruling the underworld, judging the souls, and toying with the fates of humans and demigods. They tantalize, thwart, change form, and are amused by the anguish they inflict.
As in a dream or a film by David Lynch, the characters in Soul Stealer inhabit multiple realms, multiple selves, shape-shifting their way through enigmatic visions of past and future. Appearance and identity are illusory, deceptive. Things are never as they seem. Just as each individual is a composite of innumerable cells, each self is a composite of psychological aspects, fragmented possibilities and memories, which, like Kalan's patchwork pieces of flesh, disharmoniously coalesce.
In this world of fragmentation and illusion, only love brings wholeness and truth. Only by reuniting with Oxania can Kalan be complete and his quest be concluded. But, fortunately for Soul Stealer fans, Kalan's quest does not end with this book. We look forward to more installments of Michael Easton's epic tale so that we can lose ourselves again in this exhilarating story of otherworldly mystery, unflinching courage, and undying love.