Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her…
She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.
But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.
Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?
And what happens if she starts to fall for him?
The ability to see or hear the dead and helping them move on, is of course not a new concept, just look at Ghost Whisperer or Tru Calling, which I still feel was cancelled before its time. However, the concept of ‘help a murder victim catch their killer or die’ was a version I hadn’t heard before. And while the story is a little more complicated than that concept makes it seem, it does sum up the reason that tension builds the further we get into the novel, as Taylor literally races against time to solve Justin’s murder before the Darkness get her. It makes The Weight of Souls an exciting read and one I enjoyed quite a lot.
Due to Taylor’s heritage – she’s of Chinese descent – there are some Chinese elements to the mythology of the story, but the largest mystical influences are Egyptian. The Oh family curse was set by a dark entity, thought to be Anubis, imprisoned in what is supposed to be Nefertiti’s tomb. Consequently the place the murderers Taylor catches go once the Darkness takes them isn’t your conventional heaven or hell; at least not literally, it is an after-life, just not one we know. I really liked this version of a ghost story and helping them pass on to the Great Unknown. Despite the curse of necessity taking such a central place in her life, Taylor tries not to let her life be defined by it and tries to hang on to her friends. She’s a lovely protagonist, funny, sarcastic, and caring, I really liked her.
Part of the Oh family curse is that they are guaranteed to find their one great love. And fate has a sense of humour in Taylor’s case, as her One True Love seems to be the boy whose murder she needs to avenge. While this concept left me rather dubious to begin with, to Pearce’s credit she actually sold me hard on this pairing. I loved the development of the rapport between Taylor and Justin. The way one little incident when they first met influenced everything that came after – Justin’s seeming dislike of Taylor and his bullying of her together with his group of friends – was well-conceived and felt plausible. Even though it seemed completely impossible that something lasting might come of it, the author had me rooting for Taylor and Justin to make it.
Besides Justin, Taylor has two more really important relationships in her life, the ones with her father and with her best friend Hannah. Taylor’s relationship with her father is rather strained. Mr Oh doesn’t believe in the Oh family curse – Hannah inherited the curse from her mum – he believes, he needs to believe, that Hannah and her mother just have a really strange medical or psychological condition and that she can be cured. It’s what made his marriage to Taylor’s mother troubled and the fact that he doesn’t believe in her hurts Taylor deeply. But Mr Oh is very much the involved parent, no absentee parenting in this story, a fact I appreciated a lot. Taylor’s friendship is just as strained as her relationship with her dad. Taylor’s continual disappearances and the flimsy excuses she gives for having to cancel on Hannah again and again are wearing this friendship down and Hannah is slowly losing her faith in Taylor throughout the novel. However, Hannah’s readiness to forgive Taylor shows just how good of a friend she is in the end.
The secret society at school that Taylor comes across is fascinating and frightening. I do wonder how much of these sorts of ‘old boys’ clubs’ at school are culture-based, at least at a secondary school level. I think there might also be a class element to it, as you often find stories about them set at public schools, such as Eton or Winchester, but the fact that they are set at secondary school is strange to me. As far as I’m aware here in the Netherlands they are far more common at the university level and beyond. But I also always like the secret society as a plot device, so I enjoyed it in The Weight of Souls as well.
Bryony Pearce’s first – and hopefully not last – book with Strange Chemistry was an enjoyable and interesting story. The Weight of Souls has an interesting premise and a great protagonist in Taylor. The book ends with this book’s mystery solved, but with a great big plot hook in place for a possible sequel, which I hope we’ll see announced soon. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a fun and at times dark paranormal YA mystery, The Weight of Souls is just the ticket.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.