What if all the ghost stories and paranormal events that happened in the world weren’t the result of hoaxes and overactive imaginations? What if otherworldly events and creatures do exist, but science simply hasn’t advanced to the point of understanding what they are? This is the reality posited by Eirik Moe Dahll-Larssøn, the author of Rented Souls, an intensely amusing and clever novel about a world where the things that go bump in the night are actually there.
In a scenario where paranormal believers are not only taken seriously, but represent the majority of the population, a decent amount of exposition is required, which is where Dwarf comes in. He is a unique main character who, unlike the name he is given early on in the novel, has an attitude and approach to the world that is larger than life.
After a run-in with an inter-dimensional monster named the Hoochie-Coochie Man, the narrator is quickly inducted into the UCIA – the Unknown Counterintelligence Agency. This governmental agency is tasked with hosting and handling travelers from different worlds when they cross through the Veil – the wall between our world and the infinite others in the Ether. Dwarf’s time with the agency is apparently short-lived, however, as he dies within the first few chapters. Shockingly enough, he comes back to life, which is an extremely interesting development for the leaders of UCIA.
Their new plans for Dwarf involve him standing on the front lines of Lynch City, which is one of the key locations where the demons on the outside are trying to get in. Dwarf’s dry and dirty sense of humor, combined with his knack for not staying dead, make him a perpetually entertaining main character – one who is determined to help protect the world, but unwilling to compromise who he is. With a razor-sharp tongue and an attitude that at some points can only be called “angsty,” Dwarf is like no other protagonist in recent memory.
Dwarf’s companions, other agents of UCIA, make for excellent foils, each with their own strange histories and reasons for becoming comrades. Dwarf may start this novel as a misguided youth stumbling through a strange new reality, but by the end of the book, he is transformed, making this novel about far more than episodic battles with otherworldly monsters.
The writing is extremely smart and clean, with the dialogue rattling off fast and furiously. The comedic timing of the author is also exceptional, which can be rare in prose, but the general tone of whimsy and weirdness in this novel fit perfectly with the tongue-in-cheek writing style. The action sequences are frequent, but they don’t dominate the plot, and Dahll-Larssøn takes the time to develop his characters beyond being aliens, monsters, or moody one-dimensional superheroes.
This novel delivers a fictional future that is richly supported with exposition and detail, so much so that getting lost in this reality is wildly simple. The narration is meticulously constructed, so while some of the scenes may seem fast-paced and manic, the plot is rarely difficult to follow. Dwarf and his companions, specifically Book and Swayze, form an unusual foundation for the novel, but their powerful connection carries this book to a strong finish.
Rented Souls is not all about monsters, battle scenes, and reincarnation; this novel can penetrate to the core of a reader’s beliefs, relationships, and perspective on the world at large.
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