Review: Soul Census by AJ Vega

★★★★ Soul Census by AJ Vega

Finding purpose after a life-changing event is something to which all readers can relate, and such is the fate of WWI veteran Willem Maddock, feeling the sense of despondency and alienation following the impossible tragedy of war. However, in Soul Census, written by AJ Vega, the story delves much deeper than a standard novel about post-war America. Instead, it penetrates the veil between mortality and spirituality, hinting at a form of existence that doesn’t end, but simply transcends.

Returning to find a cold world that doesn’t worship the right heroes, the tone is set for Maddock to be granted some higher purpose, but it doesn’t come in the form that he expects. The first chapter of this novel reveals that there is another world beyond the one we can see – the Spirit Realm – and it is not as disconnected from the world we know as you might expect. Based on the premise that reincarnation is not only possible, but a highly coordinated and secretive process, the novel throws Willem Maddock into the center of a mystical drama that challenges his courage, beliefs, and fortitude in the face of unthinkable odds.

The juxtaposition of Maddock’s gruff exterior and hard view of life to the ethereal personalities and unbelievable world of the Spirit Realm give the entire book a whimsical quality, despite its dark undertones. He’s a compelling central character, who finds his heart and taps into his own soul as the book proceeds, making him an excellent protagonist to root for, and a great focal point for the start of a series.

After settling into his newfound position, Maddock quickly realizes that there is a far greater threat in play than the danger of lost souls frightening people in haunted houses. Maniacal demons, powerful forces from the “other side,” and a very vague job description throw this main character into jaw-dropping circumstances and momentous events that few mortals could imagine. With a healthy dose of Nazi conspiracy and philosophical elements related to politics, religion, morality, spirituality, death, and eternal life, this book is packed with enough heady ideas to keep you flipping pages fast, while never becoming weighted down by these esoteric concepts.

The writing itself has a hard, gritty edge to it, particularly in the time sections that take place on Earth, versus the somewhat translucent and uncomfortable scenes in the Spirit Realm. For beings that live for millennia, if not forever, the foibles and failings of these spirit dwellers seem surprisingly human – even banal. Aside from the inhabitants of that world being “strange,” Vega could have done more to separate them in a meaningful way from the mortal actors in the story. Generally speaking, however, the writing was engaging and clean, with only a handful of errors, which a basic editing sweep could clear up.

The story of Soul Census could have easily gotten unwieldy, with millions of years to cover, old gods to introduce, new enemies to flesh out, and a seemingly hapless hero in the midst of it all, but Vega is up to the task, offering a mind-bending exploration of the soul. The novel manages to be thought-provoking and page-turning at once, and as the beginning of a trilogy, it will be hard to wait for Vega’s second installment.

Author Site

Soul Census