Westlake Soul
Westlake Soul by Rio Youers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before I start this review, I want to take a minute to say how awesome the cover of this book is. I partially wanted to pick this up because it deals with a tough subject in a speculative way, but at the same time, the cover really piqued my interest. Nice blend of colors and the character’s features. Even so, going into this book, I didn’t have a clue who Westlake Soul was. Reading along, I understood that he’s supposed to be a superhero of sorts, but trapped in his own body and fighting for the sake of his existence.

The catch is figuring out why he’s trapped in his body. Westlake was a young surfer caught in a rough tidal wave. He’s a living vegetable as a result and put in the charge of his family. Westlake has a great deal of frustration because he can neither move his body or communicate with the outside world. At least not in a normal way. He says he has the ability to telepathically read and influence the thoughts of the people around him as well as communicate with animals (case in point, his dog). All the while, he’s fighting a battle with an evil mastermind that threatens the balance of his present living state, and does all he can to foil the plot of the force (whom he names as Dr. Quietus) working against him.

It’s an interesting way of looking at a man who’s fighting for his life and remembering what he’s left behind in the life he lost, but there were times when “Westlake Soul” was a difficult read for me. It wasn’t so much the subject matter that jarred me, but the measure that I wasn’t necessarily enamored with Westlake at first, and that it took quite a while for the conflict to build because of the backstory and external events around Westlake. I understood the context and parallels drawn. I think the narrative could’ve been more subtle, cut a little more on the narrative, and still conveyed the same message with the heartache while still remaining well within a speculative work. It carries its share of humor (crude and general) to move the story along, but I’ll admit it wasn’t as fast of a read as I hoped it would be. It can be difficult to write an immobile/inactive character. While you see what’s going on around such a character, it could potentially be difficult to see the changes that go on and occur within that character – though you know they’re there. However, I think Youers does a decent job of showing how Westlake changes when things take a turn for the worst, and he realizes that he doesn’t have much time left, so he has to fight with as much as he can put forth.

The whole time I read this book, Poets of the Fall’s “Running Out of Time,” a song I like very much, kept playing through my head. Oddly enough it matched some of the themes this book put forth, especially when the clock is winding down and he’s trying to buy himself some time, but he doesn’t want to completely let go. At the same time, he uses his powers/essence to influence the people around him, from the sweet to the outright vengeance (what he does to Yvette’s boyfriend is one example) does give an impact to the narrative that I liked.

I think the ending does well to punctuate what the novel’s built up towards from the beginning, and while I think Youers could’ve done more showing than telling in the narrative in spurts, it’s a decent story. One I appreciated for what it had to offer, though with some noted caveats.

Overall score: 2.5/5

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher ChiZine Publications.

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