May 12 2017 8:30am

Chelsea Mueller’s Borrowed Souls Isn’t About Saving The World—And That’s What Makes It Great

Borrowed Souls by Chelsea MuellerWelcome to Gem City, where you can avoid the taint of sin on your soul by renting another to take on the guilt you may amass while being yourself...

Callie Delgado always pulls out all the stops to help her older brother, regardless of what he has done or gotten himself into. His most recent scrape has him in debt to a local yet very powerful drug dealer, Ford, whose current approach is to kidnap brother Josh and hold him until Callie does a task for him: break into police department archives to gather their research on how to stem the tide of people using souls other than their own to avoid detection while committing crimes. Given the seriousness of the “job” and the severity of the consequences if caught, Callie determines she needs a rented soul to come through more or less unscathed. To that end, she goes to see the Soul Charmer with her two hundred dollars in hand.

Not really sure what to expect, Callie finds the Charmer even more revolting than she imagined. The shop itself makes her skin crawl, but she reminds herself she is doing it all for Josh, whom she feels she owes for a lot. When the Soul Charmer tells Callie her meager amount of money will not cover soul rental, he comes up with an alternative proposal: she works for him for two weeks, teaming up with Derek, retrieving souls from those who have neglected to return them. Horrified at the prospect yet not seeing she has another option, Callie reluctantly agrees. Unfortunately, a complication gets thrown into the mix when Derek and Callie discover someone else is getting to the unreturned souls before they do. 

Mueller pulls off a seamless blend of distinctive premise, clear characterization, thrilling action, and spot-on humor while telling a nuanced story about a family whose tale proves reflective of a broken society. Gem City, stuck between the two seemingly different worlds of magic and a specific brand of Catholicism, contains an undercurrent of both despair and menace, providing an ideal backdrop for the depiction of a confused and often bemused populace attempting to make the best of their lives in a place where they feel they have little control.

Unlike many other urban fantasy protagonists, Callie is not trying to save the world—just her brother. But her act of selflessness leads Callie down a path she neither wants nor expects. 

Callie was in too deep. This world of mayhem was something she’d strived to stay away from. No matter how hard she worked, though, she couldn’t escape her destiny to be another lowlife. She’d thought she could be invisible on this job. Her name would be unspoken. The soul-renters would be looking at Derek, not her. But the Charmer couldn’t let her get away that easily. No, he had to force her to be a part of it. To make her magical, like he was some sort of bastardized fairy godfather. Cinderella had mice and a pumpkin. Callie could probably scrounge up some rats at her apartment...

Callie does learn how truly strong she can be when necessary, though taking charge of both the situation and her life present challenges she never imagined she would face.

Urban fantasy readers looking for a fresh take in a genre full of fascinating worlds and stories will love Borrowed Souls. For this reviewer, book two cannot get here quickly enough.

Note: Chelsea Mueller, in addition to this being her debut novel, is a veteran at H&H as one of our bloggers. 


Learn more about or order a copy of Borrowed Souls by Chelsea Mueller, available now:

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A reviewer and editor at Bitten by Books since 2008, Carol also serves as the Director of the Urban Fantasy track at Dragon Con, and in 2013 co-authored The Jane Yellowrock World Companion with Faith Hunter. When not reading, reviewing, or working at conventions, Carol spends as much time as possible with her three amazing grandsons.


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1 comment
1. Kareni
Borrowed Souls definitely sounds intriguing! Congratulations on your publication, Chelsea.
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