Reviewed by: Eric Postma

Billed as “space pirates in Hell” Brian Niemeier delivers an entirely original work of sci-fi/horror that will entertain, horrify, and tantalize you as you try to figure out the mystery that is clearly lurking at the foundation of the story.

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In the first book, Nethereal, Niemeier introduces us to the idea of space pirates in Hell. What at first seems to be a straight-forward story that blends science fiction and magic, centering on the tale of a scrappy group of pirates trying to lead a revolution against the oppressive Guild. The pirates are led by the intrepid captain Jaren Peregrine, determined to wipe out the Guild in retaliation for destroying his own people, the Gen, a mysterious human-like species with abilities and a lifespan that far surpass mere humans. Joining him are the rough-and-ready mercenary Teg, mysterious former Guild member Nakvin, and the devoted pilot in training Deim.

Things go from a fairly standard, if still entertaining, tale of revenge and revolution to something darker and more disturbing quickly though with the introduction of Vaun and Fallon, two characters that seem to help Jaren and the pirates at crucial moments in their flight from ruthless Guild Master Malachi. There is something about both of them though that leaves everyone uneasy, a feeling that doesn’t improve as they arrive at the Exodus, a massive and disorienting ship that could be the deciding weapon in the war against the Guild.

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Throughout the four books, the reader follows the characters and others added along the way through a unique alternative reality in which characters pop in and out of Hell, come back from the dead and gods and goddesses vie with one another for control of souls. Now, you might be wondering why Catholic Reads is taking a look at a series that fits that description. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but trust me, there is a big payoff coming. The first hint lies in the simple fact that there don’t seem to be any completely good guys and very few completely bad guys. Part of that is the skill of the author in providing nuanced characters with their own motivations, vices, and virtues. The rest though is due to the nature of the reality they are operating in. As I read, I couldn’t help but feel that something was off, something was wrong with the world and it was on purpose. The question I began asking as I read was, “Who or what would a person follow in this world in order to be good? Which god or goddess or moral system doesn’t lead to some unspeakable evil at some point?” The answers were slow in coming but they did come.

Hints towards the answer started to manifest themselves towards the end of Soul Dancer, the second book in the series and grew in prominence throughout the third book, The Secret Kings. When things are at last revealed at the end of Ophian Rising, the payoff is well worth the wait. Again, without spoiling anything, it becomes clear that there was nothing in that world a person could follow. They have to look beyond.

That said, be warned, there is no shortage of graphic imagery, moral quagmires, and horrifying characters and situations. This isn’t one for the kids. Nevertheless, Soul Cycle is an excellent work of imaginative fiction that does more than entertain, exploring questions about a world that seems to have no God, what such a world might look like, and whether or not it is possible to build a better reality than the one we live in.

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Genre: Science Fiction/Horror

Audience: Secular Young Adults to Middle-Aged

Author’s Worldview: Undisclosed

Year Published: 2015 – 2017

Themes: Moral Theology, Cosmology, Incarnation, Friendship, Love, Revenge, Forgiveness, Pride