By: Alexandru Czimbor
Publication Date: January 5, 2023
Review Date: April 24, 2023
The Soul Machines follows the life of Tudor and his two friends in the 19th-century Kingdom of Hungaria. While they are not exactly three peas in a pod, at least that’s what the Hungarian society might say – Tudor is poor, Roli is an elite, and Sami is a gypsy – they do not care and still spend time with each other whenever they can. The three, though only in their late teens, are advanced in their years when it comes to wisdom. They laugh at their irrational society that believes you can only mingle with people of the same class. Even though Tudor comes from a “low” family, that does not make him meek, but he’s also not arrogant. He’s got grit and that sometimes gets him into trouble. No matter how many times his mother, Maria, forbids him to do certain things, he does them anyway because he believes everyone is equal and should be respected regardless of their lineage.
One of the things that his mother forbids is harvesting chestnuts (when they’re in season) from the bishop’s land. That is private property and the bishop is known for the terrible things he does to trespassers. Of course, this does not stop Tudor. He’s smart, yes, but he can be careless too. One day, someone sees him and chases him down. While hiding from his potential captors, Tudor discovers something curious – a contraption of some sort – in a cave below ground. Since he’s already in hot water, and has no time for investigation, he leaves "it" for now, with plans to hopefully return. Being extra cautious on his way home, scared that he might run into someone again who should not see him there, he’s also excited to share the news with his two best friends, Roli and Sami. After sharing his recent discovery with Roli and Sami, they decide that Sami would take a closer look at it the next day and from his examination, they will devise a plan to get it. But that contraption does something horrible to Sami before he can even inspect it completely.
Sami goes home that day out of his mind. But this news does not reach Tudor and Roli right away. While waiting for news, Tudor sells goods in the market as an errand for his mother. As he is luring customers in, Tudor swears he saw the most beautiful lady he’d ever seen. It’s crazy how his heart and mind suddenly dream of marrying this girl right then and there! The mystery girl is Orsolya, an elite young woman whose family is friends with Roli’s. Tudor knows he can never be Orsolya’s intended, given his social standing. It breaks him to be aware of her presence and see her smile, knowing that his desires will never come true. And as if all these things are not enough burden yet, Tudor meets a count who, like the rich kid Roli, does not mind talking to the “other” classes. He gets friendly with Tudor, which surprised the heck out of everyone and raised a lot of eyebrows. Eventually, Tudor finds out that this count is after that thing he found. Can this count be trusted or is he only after Tudor’s discovery? Only time will tell.
With a thrilling start, The Soul Machines captures the attention right from the get go. Details are intricately woven together and make the narrative pop out of the book. Czimbor takes his time in unfolding each and every scene, not leaving any stone unturned. While the suspense and adventure will surely get the readers on the edge of their seats, the details become technical at times, and combined with the slow pace, they can get too monotonously serious. The highlighted socio-political issues, especially amongst the three protagonists, remain a serious topic throughout the book. But what makes their dynamic even more relatable is that all of them envy the others in some way. For instance, even the rich kid expresses his joy in spending time with the poor kid’s family because this isn’t something he can experience in his own home - this still happens among friend groups today and this powerful message is only one of many that Czimbor exposes compellingly.
Quill says: Prepare to be taken into another world in The Soul Machines, a unique narrative where the line between good and evil becomes blurred. With thought-provoking ideas, this tale will keep you in suspense until the very end.
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