Recently, I read the newest book by Carol Berg, one of my favorite authors and a very underrated one, at that. Flesh and Spirit is the first book in the Lighthouse Duology. Fortunately, the second book Breath and Bone is already completed and is supposed to be out in January 2008 so there is not a long wait for the closing volume.
Valen, our hero – er, anti-hero – is a Pureblood, a sorcerer whose life is controlled by the Pureblood Registry and their own family. Purebloods are considered to be highly gifted and privileged, and the price of this gift is a limit on the freedom they have. These sorcerers are not allowed to control their own destiny – everything from marriage to employment is settled by a contract made by their family. Valen was a rebellious child who never got along well with his family, particularly his father who hated both Valen and his grandfather, who singled out Valen as his favorite.
When we meet Valen at the beginning of the story, he has been a runaway for several years and is badly wounded. His partner thief, Boreas, takes all Valen’s belongings he can find, except for a book he considers worthless, and abandons Valen. Fortunately, Valen is found by some monks belonging to a nearby monastery who offer him sanctuary. Not having anywhere else to go, Valen decides to become a monk for a time. The abbot seems all too ready to accept Valen as a monk due to the book he carries with him, which is a magic book known to lead to lands of the Danae, a magical race similar to angels.
Valen soon finds that at least some of the members of the monastery are more than what they seem and are trying to prepare for a time of darkness in which men will forget much of what they know. With the rare knowledge of the book of maps he carries, Valen may be the only one who can help them prepare for the dark times ahead.
I was surprised at how slow the beginning of this book was since all of Carol Berg’s other books I have read have grabbed my attention from the beginning and been nearly impossible to put down. Once I got into this book, though, I found the world to be very interesting and I am looking forward to the next book very much. There were a lot of unresolved mysteries about the Danae and Valen’s grandfather that piqued my curiosity. I’ll definitely be picking up the next volume when it comes out.
Like the Rai-kirah trilogy and Song of the Beast, this book is written from a first person perspective. The characterization is fairly well done, and although I really liked Valen, I didn’t feel as connected to him as I did to the characters from Carol Berg’s other books I have read – Seyonne from the Rai-kirah trilogy or Aidan from Song of the Beast. Valen is an interesting character with a mix of good and bad qualities, and I’m not sure exactly what was lacking when I compare him to the other characters. He was still a tragic figure you could feel for, but he wasn’t as “nice” as the other characters, which may be why – you feel that he deserves at least some of what is coming to him.
The book was very well written and Valen definitely had his own voice that stood out from the other characters Berg has written about. It always takes an author of talent to not always write characters who all sounds the same when writing from their perspective, and I feel she does this very well.
The themes are similar to the themes in the other books I have read by this author – slavery/lack of freedom, the truth about reality, personal growth, and the confinements of religion. These are all themes I really enjoy, so that may be why I tend to love her books so much.
In spite of not being as good as Transformation (which is one of my favorite books so it is hard to live up to), Flesh and Spirit is an enjoyable, intriguing tale if you have the patience to wait for the story to get going. Once I did get into it, it had me hooked and eager for the next volume.