Title: Catwoman: Soulstealer
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre: Young Adult
Version: ARC – Paperback Uncorrected Proof
Page Count: 368
Publisher: Random House LCC
Notable Notables: I’m trying but I’m really struggling to think of some…
Recommended Readers: No one, especially not DC fans
I won this ARC of Catwoman: Soulstealer from a giveaway on Tumblr, but I still want to thank the publisher for providing this for early-ish reviews.
The bad cover aside, I think some part of me was still hoping that Sarah J. Maas could at least pull off a standalone book, especially since it was a book featuring characters that aren’t her own. That being said, DC is my preferred comic book universe, and Batman especially means so much to me, so Maas was really going to have to work to impress me.
To put it simply, she did not. Maas exhibits the same flaws and bad writing quirks here that she does in her two main series. The repetitive sentence fragments, the exposition of backstory and actions to retroactively explain why present actions are possible, the attempts to manipulate the reader toward her Perfect Ending–she truly hasn’t grown as a writer at all, and no one on her team seems inclined to push her towards trying, which is super disappointing to say the least.
I wish I could say that this book gradually declined, but the truth is, it failed from the start. Selina Kyle is represented here, not as an independent, quick-witted jewel thief, but as a young woman whose agency is at the mercy of others and whose identity as Catwoman is solely created by everyone except herself.
First, she’s part of the Leopards, a girl-gang who operates under the behest of Carmine Falcone and who fights those who are in Falcone’s debt arena-style. This set-up reeked of a deleted scene from Throne of Glass that was modified and slapped into Gotham City, and Selina sounded like Celaena 2.0 the entire time. “Let the bloodying begin,” was so laughably bad, I almost put the book down then and there. Maas couldn’t even resist making Selina have a weak stomach (she throws up no less than three times in this book, an extreme reaction that Maas overuses and that I don’t understand why she’s so stuck on). Selina even has some trashy tattoos, just like Celaena and Feyre before her: leopard spots up and down both arms, one for every victory she’s ever had, and of course, she’s undefeated. (Yep, you guessed it. She’s a leopard earning her spots… Gag me, please.)
A few things:
- Selina Kyle would never let herself look that way, especially since it means she has to wear long-sleeves to hide them all the time, so what’s the point?
- Selina’s supposed to be killing the people she fights, but she only knocks them unconscious. However, she does it so well that somehow no one has ever noticed that she’s not exactly following orders and getting her hands dirty. You see where I’m going with this? Having tattoos to mark kills makes sense. Having them just because you won a backyard brawl is ridiculous.
- Selina Kyle is one of the most notorious, morally-gray characters in existence, but here she’s been thoroughly declawed. If she was this desperate to save her sister, she would have killed those men, no question. In popular canon, it’s Batman that even convinces her to adopt a no-kill rule, which she does stick to until Black Mask tortures her sister, and then it’s no more rule. Do you understand what I’m saying? Selina doesn’t mindlessly kill people and does try to avoid it, but she’ll do it if push comes to shove, especially in regards to her life or her family’s lives.
So you see, the only thing about this set-up that rings true is that Selina is doing all this to earn money to try to save her sister, Maggie, who is afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Selina would absolutely do anything, would cross any lines if it meant saving someone she loves. Which is why her not following Falcone’s orders to kill her opponents doesn’t fly; Selina would not risk Falcone’s displeasure if it meant losing the only means to care for her sister, but Maas has given Selina the easiest, most convenient out, so that she never has to face consequences for her disobedience. (I won’t even get into how laughable it is to picture Selina working for Falcone in the first place as one of his glorified cronies instead of just taking what she wants, but I digress.)
That was strike one.
The only thing about the first part I liked was Maggie and Selina’s relationship. It was actually a functional sibling relationship for once from Maas, but it quickly fizzled out once it became the typical “older sister has to protect fragile younger sister” trope, which of course means Selina has to lie and keep secrets from Maggie to protect her. Fortunately, Maggie was written smart enough to know something was up, and the two sisters did have some tender moments between them. However, it was cut off far too soon, and then Maggie became a motive and nothing else.
Strike two was the utter narrative and character inconsistencies, especially from Selina’s POV, throughout the book. Maybe those will have been caught by publication, but given how I know past books have gone for Maas, I doubt the bulk of them will. I could have possibly gotten behind this Selina if she stayed constant and if her thoughts even tried to match her actions, but they didn’t.
The first inconsistency was in Selina’s character design itself. Ignoring the tattoos, this book couldn’t keep straight what Selina it was giving me. To be fair, Selina’s character design has and still is changing from adaptation to adaptation, but I still expect there to be consistencies within a single given adaptation for things to make sense. Maas did keep Selina’s more recent half-Latina heritage, but instead of her knowing she is Cuban through her mother’s side, Selina doesn’t know her ethnicity because her father is an unknown, which I thought was fairly stereotypical. Selina also shows no outward signs of being Latina as she does in certain recent comics with her dark hair and olive skin. Instead, I’m told she has “golden-brown” hair, which in Maas language means “blonde,” then “ridiculous fake blonde hair” because she dyed it, and then it changes “back to her dark hair” that it never was to begin with. Meanwhile, the cover says she’s a younger Anne Hathaway version, which is funny because Maas does rip off lines straight from the Dark Knight trilogy.
The second inconsistency lies in her motive for stealing. Constantly, we’re told how all her actions are geared toward her “mission,” that she wants to protect the poor and innocent of Gotham who have been taken advantage of by the corrupt rich elite. Selina wants to get back at them because they wear jewelry, and go to parties, and live in penthouses while not giving a damn about anyone else. So what does Selina do when she returns to Gotham? Wears jewelry, goes to parties, lives in a penthouse, and doesn’t give a damn about anyone else.
Sure, it’s all a “front” for her to learn about the rich and steal from them, but then where does all of that money go? Maas tries to explain, but it doesn’t add up, especially once Selina starts thinking she wants to upend Gotham society and let the supervillains know that Batwing can’t measure up now that Batman is away. But how does letting a bunch of murderous supervillains run loose in the streets of Gotham help the poor and the innocent?
Part of the reason why it doesn’t make sense is because Selina’s reasons for doing anything are shrouded from even the reader from day one. Her actions are then retroactively explained through lazy, patchwork exposition that Maas uses often to manipulate the reader where she wants them to go. It didn’t work this time, and honestly, it just made the narrative extremely sloppy and Selina look like a complete catastrophe of a character. (Sorry, had to do it.)
Strike three, however, was the most important: Selina wasn’t given a shred of permission to create her own persona once in this novel.
For instance, making her discover her supervillain identity through having to be rescued and trained by Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins was such an insult to Selina’s independence and intelligence. I’m also really getting tired of Maas shoe-horning her heroines into being assassins–and then having them balk at actual assassin work. It’s such lazy morality, and I’m bored by it.
What’s worse is that Selina obtains and creates all her gear via the League rather than coming by it her own way. Even her cat persona is created by the dumb tattoos the Leopards gave her and the taunts of “kitty” and “kitten” by other assassins, which she only embraces so they can’t be used to humiliate her anymore, rather than her just having a thing for cats and what they represent: agility, elegance, grace, sensuality, independence. She even shapes her dumb assassin’s Death Mask with the ears and lenses of a cat, but when she returns to Gotham, it’s Poison Ivy who names her Catwoman. Selina doesn’t even get to choose her own villainess name, didn’t even bother to think of one despite her cat motif and despite her wanting all of Gotham to know who she is. Y’all, this was maddening.
And despite Poison Ivy naming her, she acts surprised when Selina pets a cat, claiming she didn’t think Selina would like animals. Y’all, this book was a train wreck.
While I’m on the subject of Poison Ivy, let’s talk about her and Harley Quinn and their relationship to Selina here. Neither Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn were in character at all. I thought Harley was at first, but then I realized it only seemed that way because Maas doesn’t like her, so she was actually allowed to be a villain. However, so many times, I thought that Ivy’s and Harley’s reactions to things happening in the novel should have been swapped so they’d be closer to being real, in-character reactions. For some reason, the Ivy here cares for humanity when she’s historically never cared much for any human except Harley. She also gets visibly shaken whenever Harley kills someone or is violent, and I was just shaking my head at this point because who is this? Certainly, not my Pamela Isley.
Meanwhile, Harley is written as dangerous as she should be, but the fun aspect of her personality was practically non-existent, and her character designs were yikes. You could tell Maas couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything good, much less a full clothing concept. I got extremely tired of hearing about how much Selina didn’t like her and could only take her in small doses.
Harley and Ivy are acknowledged here as a complicated couple, but their “history” makes no sense given that Selina, Poison Ivy, and Harley have all just breached their twenties. Maas tried to establish Gotham City Sirens-level dynamics with three villainesses who, according to her, have just started their careers, and it just doesn’t work. Harley has somehow already done the Mad Love thing with the Joker, and they’ve broken up and she’s working solo, but she’s still sorta hung up on him? It’s really not done well, and it doesn’t make sense since she’s just twenty. This would be prime-time Mad Love years, if anything, or she’d still be getting her PhD in Psychology at this time. Pam also doesn’t have her PhD, not even going to grad school, but she, like every character in the novel, is a natural genius even though the narrative really doesn’t show it.
If anything, though, I’d say Selina and Ivy had more of a relationship in this book than Ivy and Harley did, and sadly not a gay one. Of course, it was only done to achieve the narrative’s end goal, and it wasn’t in character on Ivy’s side at all, so I didn’t get to enjoy any of it. After awhile, too, the amount of times Selina “shoots Ivy a grateful look that the woman couldn’t see because of her helmet” became sickening because Selina only did it whenever Ivy was being a buffer between Selina and Harley. I wanted to read a book about these three becoming allies and friends and raising hell together, not a book where Selina is literally being catty to Harley, who is treated like the unwanted, unstable, red-headed step-child throughout. The worse part, though, was when Selina only wanted Harley to get therapy to get over the Joker so that Ivy could get the relationship out of Harley that she “deserves.” Like wow, way to make therapy and recovery a priority only for the sake of a romantic relationship, not because it’s good for the person or anything.
The only blessing out of this mess was that Maas only had the Joker there for a second, and he said three lines, so she only got to ruin him for that brief amount of time. Still, though, having Harley only refer to him as “my ex” or “my man” was like hearing the opening notes of a song that never finish the chord it’s supposed to. Maas, the words you’re looking for are, “my puddin’.”
Well, we’ve talked about the girls. Let’s talk about Luke Fox aka Batwing.
For the record, I’ve liked Luke as a character since I saw him in Batman: Bad Blood. It was nice seeing a black teenager don the cowl and fight the good fight, and I thought he had a very interesting perspective on things.
However, I don’t know what purpose he served in this book. Maas made up a marine backstory complete with PTSD, because of course she did, and then tried to pair him with Selina, and everything about it was so forced. I’m a hard Selina/Bruce shipper, so this was already an impossible sell, but this narrative did not help. One second, Luke is dodging his parents about dating and being firm on wanting to work on himself and not complicating his Batwing lifestyle. Then, suddenly all that goes out the window the second he spots “the knockout blonde walking down the hallway” and her green eyes and “tapered waist.” Gone is the professional, cool-headed Luke who’s just trying to get by, and here is the flirty, roguish Luke who’s a fool for a hot girl, and it was so painful to read. I got so much secondhand embarrassment.
It seems Maas only created Luke’s PTSD just to bridge the romantic chasm between Luke and Selina, and her use of it throughout the book is further proof she doesn’t understand how PTSD works. She claims Luke’s was triggered from fireworks, and the way he copes with it is to go to PTSD therapy by day and to be Batwing by night because he’s saving people. Yet somehow, close-range gunfire from criminals actually firing at him does nothing except “trying to haul him back into his memories” that he can easily ward off with breathing and body movements. Instead, only massive explosions from a distance cued at the right time so Catwoman can ground him have any effect, and that was such bullshit.
It’s his PTSD that allows Catwoman to figure out the link between Luke Fox and Batwing, but somehow Luke, despite being a genius, can’t figure out the link between his new socialite neighbor that no one’s ever heard of before and the sudden robberies that have broken out over Gotham. Luke was such a bumbling, ineffective hero who was five steps behind Catwoman the entire time that I didn’t even feel satisfied by Selina’s victories when it was all said and done. Everything was shallow, which is sad for me to say because I usually love it when the villain wins. I would’ve rather this had been a heist novel with Selina and her girls with how quickly Luke became just the battered, “damaged” love interest–oh, but he’s not as damaged and inhuman as Selina, because she has to one-up everyone on everything.
According to Luke, even Batman, trained and lethal as he is, can’t compete with Catwoman’s animal stillness, “like she might blend into a shadow and never emerge.” Yeah. This was said about Batman, that he can’t do the elemental, animal thing and be still and blend into shadows. Even though that’s kind of his schtick. Even though that’s how he’s so successful at terrorizing Gotham’s criminals. Even though, in-canon, he’s managed to sneak up on Catwoman and vice versa (they do it to each other, that’s how it works). But no. Only Catwoman can do these things because she’s a League Assassin and Catwoman.
Dear Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, neither of y’all deserved to be treated like this, and I’m so sorry.
In the end, everything lines up for the trademark SJM Perfect Ending–and a lot of it mirrored Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer ending, which was much better, and it’s kind of not great that things were so similar at the end of the day. It’s a shame that no one told Maas about the actual double-edged sword that comes with using a Lazarus Pit–that every use inflicts madness, which gets worse the more you use it–otherwise, we might have had a decent ending at least. But oh, well.
Oh, why was the subtitle of this book called “Soulstealer,” you ask? No idea. Trying to link it to the Lazarus Pit would be a bit of a stretch, just saying.
The only thing I can say with confidence is that this was my penultimate book I will be reading by this author. Once the last Throne of Glass book comes out, I’ll be quitting her forever, and I won’t regret a single aspect of that decision.
TLDR; don’t read this book. Play the Arkham games or read Gotham City Sirens instead. You’ll be much happier.