Penny For Your Soul by K.A. Ashcomb SPFBO 8 Semi-finalist review

SPFBO 8: Penny for Your Soul by K.A. Ashcomb

Welcome to the Semi-Finals stage of SPFBO 8! As you know, we already cut 25 books from our batch of 30 and announced our semi-finalists. Check out our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page for more info! In the next few weeks, we’ll post group reviews of each semi-finalist, then we’ll reveal our finalist on October 13th.

Our 4th SPFBO 8 semi-finalist review is Penny for Your Soul by K.A. Ashcomb. The order of the reviews within a post will be the following: first will be the person who picked the book as a semi-finalist, and then the others in alphabetical order.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at our 4th semi-finalist!

About the Book
Series: Glorious Mishaps #2Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publishing: September 1st, 2020Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
Penny for Your Soul by K.A. Ashcomb

The dead don’t wait.

But they do work in the factories, decide over policies, and hate to stay buried six feet under. Petula Upwood is about to find what the undead genuinely want. She follows strangers into the night to awaken a man who many would prefer to stay under. She will soon realize that being a necromancer is more about politics than perfecting the art of waking the dead. And she hates it.

Herbert Ringworm, a sculptor and a werewolf-wrestler, is willing to kill to serve his justice. Not that easy when he is forced to pair with a genteel ghoul. The only thing he wants is Ona to be alive again.

Morris Reinhardt, a banker, needs to get tonight right to save his late father’s bank from the ruins by starting a conspiracy. He just isn’t sure about his accomplices and should have known better than put Petula’s life in danger. Everything is going haywire.

If they want to survive tonight, they need to cooperate, and that is not exactly easy.

Penny for Your Soul is an economic and political satire with humans, ghouls, and undead willing to do anything to have a win. It is full of personal stories and a few jokes about metaphysics and humanity.

Review

Arina

Penny for Your Soul is a witty, fun satire in the spirit of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Yes, comparisons and comps are often backstabbing and annoying (and yes, I like my comps, come at me), but I dare you to try this one and not go there yourself. 

It’s got the dark humor and cleverness to support it; exploring current politics and economics through the lens of a world where necromancy is the axis of society. Undead bankers rule with coin and necromancers with status, and the fabric of this world is woven with the fact that death has become a commodity to be exchanged and played with.

A necromancer is tasked with the safety of a recently deceased banker, and his accomplices only make things harder as they rush to complete a greedy plan before the clock ticks midnight. They’re an ingenious trio and I couldn’t stop laughing at their antics; each of them is either infuriating, delightfully sarcastic, or engagingly revolting.

The omniscient narrator is a fun break from more closed-off narratives, as the reader is privy to most evil plans every shady character is engendering, our characters are frustratingly clueless and one keeps wondering how and when all hell will break loose.

Bjørn

“Ira didn’t disguise his true nature in any way. He didn’t have to. The laws and the atmosphere of the city, which valued bankers more than anyone else, let him do whatever he pleased.”

The premise of Penny for Your Soul is delicious. The undead live… um, coexist with the not-yet-undead, all of them creating unions and political parties, fighting for hierarchy all of them believe to be unjust, necromancers and ghouls and bankers (and bankers’ wives) in constant uneasy (im)balance. The poor Mayor is simultaneously cunning and much nicer than her subjects. Mrs. Maybury is the Hyacinth Bucket of the undead council members, her jabs so strong they send her own teeth flying. (Happens to the best of us.) An obnoxiously sweet ghoul makes her (and the Mayor’s) life (maybe I should choose a different word) surprisingly pleasant. Ira, the banker brought back from the dead at the very last moment, has quite a few scores to settle. His wife doesn’t seem happy either with his slightly decomposed return or Petula, the necromancer whose presence keeps him alive. Petula herself wants to leave the Necropolis (and Ira) (and his wife) and start her own little consulting practice for opinionated spirits needing to be guided into their afterlife. Herbert… Morris… 

Yeah.

The blurb made me slightly uneasy when I read the words “it is full of personal stories,” because those can easily become in-jokes an outsider doesn’t get. I’m afraid this might have happened. Every now and then I had the feeling that I was reading something I needed context to understand. Then, unexpectedly, Ashcomb would strike gold – some one-liners made me cackle uncontrollably. Alas, they were surrounded by too much context.

I am not sure who is the protagonist of the book or whether there was meant to be one. (The blurb lists three, but there are more.) I felt I was reading a collection of stories happening simultaneously, each featuring a different selection of characters from the sizeable cast. Action scenes would suddenly detour into lengthy internal monologues – backstories of the narrators. Once those ended, I found myself going back to check what was actually happening, then started skimming some of them, as they didn’t add to the many subplots – none of which seems to be the plot.

There is a great book in Penny for Your Soul, possibly more than one. With a good, strict editor, it could have made a fantastic series (it’s a book two in a series already, though). As I mentioned, the premise is delicious, the voices distinct, and the humorous undertone biting (there are vampires too!). As it is, though, I DNFed at 50%.

Nick

If I hadn’t already read a few books that were kind of like this one I think I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. This book was kind of reminiscent of Tim Waggoner’s Necropolis trilogy and also a little like Victoria Corva’s Tombtown books, which I am a fan of. As a result the idea and story weren’t really entirely fresh to me, although Ashcomb’s writing and execution were pretty solid. And I’m kind of a sucker for stories like this that involve an ancient city populated by the undead and various other creepy ghouls and monsters. So that part of it very much appealed to me and I continued reading with an open mind hoping that maybe I would be pleasantly surprised. The characters were interesting enough but never entirely grabbed me and I think it’s because many of them are not that likable. A lot of that was by design but I have to admit that it  hampered my enjoyment somewhat. What I did like was the dialogue, which is often witty and has a biting humor running through it. In the end I thought this was a read that should be agreeable to a lot of fantasy readers who are drawn to snarkily humorous fantasy authors like Terry Pratchett and Jim Butcher. For me though it just didn’t hit enough of the sweet spots to make it my favorite among our semi-finalist group.

Paul

Penny for your Soul has an undeniably enticing synopsis, what with the mention of werewolf-wrestlers, necromancers, and the living/dead existing cheek to embalmed jowl. Its description as an ‘economic and political satire’ did worry me a little as I have little interest in either subject, but I went in with an open mind.

Where Penny for your Soul excels is in its world-building. Necropolis is a living and breathing city, though many of its denizens aren’t, with an awful lot of thought and structure behind it. The physicality of the city is described with an easily visualised Gothic ambience and is the type of setting you would describe as a character in and of itself. Necropolis’ society is anchored by believable and understandable rules, and the characters themselves move within these structures, adding to the realism.

The characters are interesting but, for me, are not as vibrant or engaging as their home. One issue is that there are just so many of them, and it feels as though they are competing for attention throughout each chapter and so never really get the chance to breathe.

In terms of plot, if you have economic or political interests, it’s likely one that will hook you, but for me, it was a little too mundane. As I read through the book, it made me think of the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, where the spectacle of moon bases and thunder balls were replaced by a dam and a water monopoly. It’s certainly a unique premise, but perhaps it was just a little close to points to the world with its banking monopolies, focus groups, a tanking economy, bailouts, and stimulation loans.

For me, Penny for your Soul felt more like an economic book with fantasy elements rather than a fantasy book with economic elements. If that sounds good to you though, it’s definitely a book you should pick up, and it may well end up scratching a hitherto unscratched literary itch.

Timy

When we got the first glimpse of our batch back in the summer, Penny for Your Soul was one of the books that caught my attention. So I was glad when I learned that Arina picked it as a semi-finalist, giving me the opportunity to read it. Although the book’s GR page says it’s the second book of a series, it’s totally standalone, and you don’t need any previous knowledge.

What I really liked about this book was the setting. The Necropolis is a big metropolis with gothic vibes, giving a home to living, undead, and dead people, ghouls, spirits, and all types of creatures. It makes an interesting mix and their interactions and conflicts that are the base of this story. Well, that and this damned thing called economy. As with Nick, the setting itself made me think of one of our previous semi-finalists, Books & Bone by Victoria Corva (which was my favorite book that year).

But while I had fun with the setting, the rest of the book didn’t really work for me. The story follows a couple of characters – Petula Upwood the necromancer, Herbert a guy who has some wrestling career and a past that haunts him – literally, Morris the banker who seems to be the one with an actual conscience among his fellow conspirators, Minta the necromancer who rules the city and a few others besides. If I was hard pressed I wouldn’t be able to tell which of any of the characters was the protagonist. It probably was a deliberate decision, making this book plot-driven rather than character driven. Which is fine, personally I prefer character-driven stories. It probably didn’t help that all of the characters were pretty one-dimensional and consequently boring after a while. For example, by the 50% mark, all I learned about Petula was that she is a necromancer, loves reading, got stuck in a situation she didn’t ask for and had a family in another city. To me, it felt like the characters didn’t have enough depth to make them engaging. Which sucks, because they have so much potential.

Another thing that didn’t land with me was the humor. Now, this absolutely comes down to personal taste, so take this with a grain of salt. Personally, I didn’t find it particularly funny, nor do I like stories with zombies (whatever they are called, here, undead), humorous or not. But we know humor can be a hit or miss with people, so there.

I think I was more disappointed with the fact that Penny for Your Soul didn’t meet my expectations than with the book itself. Which sucks, but it happens. Overall, Penny for Your Soul has a great premise, and I pretty much agree with Paul that it feels like an economic book with fantasy elements rather than the other way around. And that’s fine, and you might find it up to your alley, but I had enough economy lessons at high school to last me a lifetime, and I realized at a young age, that this is not a topic that I ever will understand or like. It’s a shame because I feel that Penny for Your Soul definitely has an audience out there, it’s just sadly not me.

Our Judgement
ArinaBjørnNickPaulTimyOur Rating
6465.565.5

For more SPFBO content, please visit our SPFBO 8 Phase 1 page!

Timy, also known as Queen Terrible Timy hails from a magical land called Hungary, born and raised in its capital city, Budapest. Books have been her refuge and best friends ever since she can remember along with music. She might be a tiny bit addicted to the latter. Timy is the owner and editor of Queen's Book Asylum. In her free time (hah!) she likes to create things, collect panda stuff, go to concerts, travel, and take the literary world one book at a time.

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