Breath and Bone is the second half of Carol Berg’s latest set of books, The Lighthouse Duology. It picks up where its predecessor leaves off, so it is necessary to read the first part Flesh and Spirit before attempting to read this book. This means that this review may contain some spoilers for Flesh and Spirit since it would be rather difficult to discuss even the basic plot without giving away some events from the end of the first book.
The sorceror Valen, who has a talent for finding people and the realms of the magical Danae, is still bound in the service of Prince Osriel, the bastard prince with a frightening reputation. Watched constantly by an almost inhuman warrior, Valen is frustrated by his inability to help rescue the boy Jullian from the clutches of a man who had been posing as one of the monks he is was staying with. In an attempt to find one of Jullian’s missing friends, the monks put a sleeping potion in the water of those watching over Valen so he can use his abilities to help them find him. They find his body in the well of the Danae where Valen again sees the same Dane who keeps appearing to him.
In spite of his many flaws – a rebellious reputation, illiteracy, and an inability to perform fundamental magic spells – the priestess Sila Diaglou also shows an interest in Valen and would like to obtain him from the prince. Valen finds the idea of being in the clutches of Sila Diaglou, who thirsts to banish knowledge from the world, even more abhorrent than serving the prince, who may not be quite as bad as Valen had feared but is still rather unnerving.
The highlight of this story is its characters. Although this story is told in the first person perspective from the point of view of Valen, all the characters are very well drawn and real. Valen’s personality drips off the page with every thought and observation, simultaneously humorous and thoughtful. He is a very gray character who undergoes many changes since we were first introduced to him in Flesh and Spirit, and in many ways, this novel is about Valen coming to terms with himself.
The character of Osriel is also well done as Berg reveals there is more to the prince who practices dark magics than it may appear. His actions may at times be evil, but he has a vision and is doing his best to do what he believes to be right. Even the extreme fanatic Sila Diaglou has motives that almost make her seem understandable when she talks about her viewpoint. The characters come alive and that has always been Berg’s strength – crafting characters the reader can really care about. Valen has struggles with his family and his relationships that are problems almost anyone can identify with, yet he has more intense issues such as his addiction to a drug that is so heart-wrenching anyone can identify with the emotions portrayed if not the situation itself.
The world of the Danae is also more fully revealed in this story and the descriptions of it are lovely. However, it is not perfect – their picturesque beauty is contrasted with their treatment of others and some rather ugly societal beliefs and practices.
This novel begins at a quick pace with several big revelations occurring within the first few chapters. After that, it slows down a bit, which makes the pacing seem a little bit off since some of the most interesting questions built up in the first book are answered so early in this book. This is not a big flaw, though, since the characters and well-written prose keep you reading.
Breath and Bone is an improvement over the first book, which was a little difficult to become immersed in early on. The conclusion more than makes up for the slow start since Valen’s development would not have the same impact if it had not been shown in the first book.
I would recommend The Lighthouse Duet to anyone who enjoys characters who leap off the page into your imagination with some politics and magic thrown in.