The Girl with Two Souls by Stephen Palmer

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by Vertigo, Dec 3, 2016.

  1. Vertigo

    Vertigo Mad Mountain Man

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    The Girl with Two Souls is a little difficult to classify, it is part steampunk, part fantasy, part alternate history and, arguably, part science fiction. It is also YA. Now I am no longer a fantasy reader and am not a great fan of alternate history or YA so it was really something of a pleasant surprise that I found the book really very enjoyable.

    The main protagonist Kora/Roka is a fourteen-year-old who appears to have, as the title suggests, two souls or personalities and the story revolves around the quest to understand the reasons and significance of this affliction. These two souls do not really share occupancy but rather alternate days in control of her body and present very different contrasting characters. The story is set in an alternate Edwardian society in which clockwork automata do all the hard and unpleasant work throughout the British Empire and the running of the Emprise has become very much dependent upon them. These automata also have their own variety of soul gifted to them by a mysterious Soul Giver in the Factory where they are manufactured which is also owned by Kora’s estranged father.

    The pacing is fairly sedate but that evokes a dignified feeling somehow appropriate to the tone of the Edwardian setting and which I found worked very well. There are few Earth shattering revelations but rather Kora makes steady progress in the exploration of the mystery of hers and Roka’s strange affliction, whilst Roka is more interested in getting involved with some of the radical movements of the time: socialism, the women’s suffragette movement, atheism and, possibly more significantly, rights for the automata.

    Embedded within the main story is a second children’s story quite obviously reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, written by one Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (go google the name). Whilst well written, very much in Carroll’s style, I’m not sure I quite understand its significance, however, as this is the only the first of the three parts that make up the complete story, it may well be something that will become clearer later.

    The Girl with Two Souls captures the feel of the Edwardian era whilst also introducing the fantasy and steampunk elements in a very natural manner. It presents an interesting reflection on the nature of sentience through the concept of the soul; comparing that of humans, animals and automata. This is certainly an interesting thread but it might be a little ambitious for a YA book. However, the story flows easily along without requiring the reader to consider such matters in any depth but rather inviting them to consider it should they wish. On the other hand I’m not so sure that is the case for the political aspects; though I enjoyed these, and in particular the contrast between rights for workers, women and automata, but I’m less sure how accepting the younger reader will be of those aspects.

    This is a very well written and enjoyable book but the reader should be aware that it definitely does not stand alone; it is really only the first of three parts of one book rather than one book of a trilogy. By the finish there is very little resolved and it ends very much on a cliff hanger. I am looking forward to continuing with the next part and learning more about Kora’s/Roka’s rather intriguing world.

    4/5 stars
     
  2. Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    Liked :)
     
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  3. Vertigo

    Vertigo Mad Mountain Man

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    The Girl with One Friend by Stephan Palmer


    The Girl with One Friend follows on from The Girl with Two Souls as the second volume in Stephen Palmer’s Factory Girl trilogy and makes a very good sequel to that book. If anything the writing is slightly better the pacing a little faster and the action a bit more immediate; in the previous book it did occasionally feel a little incidental.

    With her enemies closing in on all sides Kora’s/Roka’s and Erasmus’ options appear to be running out. Forced to go on the run they head for Africa in an attempt to find Kora’s mother. With the plot thickening, each new revelation takes Kora and Erasmus (and the reader) further towards understanding but Palmer keeps his readers in a tantalising state of suspense as it’s hard to know what their next questions should be never mind the answers. Palmer’s part alternate history, part steampunk YA thriller steadily pulls the reader deeper into its web, each question answered seems only to raise several more keeping the reader intrigued and well and truly hooked!

    The writing is very good and seems to have gained confidence as the characters continue to be fleshed out and develop through the events of the story. However, as with the previous volume, I am a little concerned that the political, social and religious conflicts addressed in the book may be a little too much for the YA reader though that might just be me being a touch condescending.

    In parts thought provoking, often intriguing and always well written The Girl with One Friend is makes an enjoyable second part to the Factory Girl Trilogy.

    4/5 stars
     
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  4. Vertigo

    Vertigo Mad Mountain Man

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    The Girl with No Soul is the final instalment in Palmer’s Factory Girl trilogy. Returning from Africa Erasmus and Roka/AutoRoka must get back to Sheffield travelling, with considerable difficulty, across an England that is fast sliding into open rebellion. Sheffield, the home of the factory and therefore the centre of all the troubles, is even worse but they must get there and then into the Factory, for it is only there that everything can be resolved.

    Palmer keeps the pace and the intrigue going in this final book with some great action whilst at the same time building on the interesting philosophical questions raised in the previous books. How can you measure identity? Is it just the sum of a person’s memories and experiences? But what if, as with both Kora and Roka, you can barely remember more than a day into your past? AutoRoka has been ‘programmed’ to observe, remember and, indeed, mimic, Roka as accurately as possible and, unlike Roka, having a perfectly good memory, is it not reasonable that, as she claims, she is now Roka herself? After all she does contain the memories of far more of Roka’s experiences than Roka herself ever could.

    Then there is the question of souls, both human and automaton. What is a soul and does it only have power if you believe in it? I suspect Palmer is here playing on a topic that has long interested him; can artificial intelligence ever reach the same level of sentience as humans? If we believe we have souls then the answer seems likely to be no, unless the artificial intelligence can also have a soul. Or is it maybe just a question of the level of complexity and intelligence reaching a level comparable with human intelligence? And is it inevitable in that case that the artificial intelligences will start asking exactly the same questions about the possibility of their own souls?

    These are the kind of questions that these books pose to the reader. In this last book the two main protagonists, one human, Erasmus, and one ‘duloid’ (advanced automaton), Roka, reject religion and the idea that they have souls. For Erasmus, having been brought up a firm Christian believer, this is hard but possibly even harder is seeing AutoRoka as his equal and accepting that she is, indeed, now Roka herself.

    This is all good thought provoking stuff, that I thoroughly enjoyed, but again I must question whether it is a little too much for a YA trilogy and whether, despite the young age of the main protagonists, that is, in fact, a correct description. However, at sixty years old myself, I can’t really judge that fairly and can only say that for me this was a very good, thought provoking trilogy.


    4/5 stars
     
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  5. Foxbat

    Foxbat None The Wiser

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    I concur with Vertigo's review. A very good trilogy. As to the YA question...I didn't even consider it. To Hell with genres, I say. A damn good book is simply that, a damn good book. :)
     
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  6. Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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