Flesh and Spirit
by Carol Berg
Cover Artist: Luis Royo
Review by Colleen Cahill
Roc Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 978045146097804
Date: 01 May 2007 / Show Official Info /
There are plenty of fantasy series with heroes who destiny seeks out. In Carol Berg's Spirit and Flesh, we find a very reluctant hero, one who has run from his family, his powers and any destiny. If Valen could just be an average person in normal times, he would be happy to let any glory pass him by. But these are not normal times, as social unrest, and dark powers are on the rise and he finds there is no place to hide from fate.
When Valen takes a leg injury during a robbery attempt, he is abandoned by his partner in crime near a monastery. Taken in by the brothers, Valen claims to be a traveler attacked by bandits: he then offers to become an novitiate in the order. It is clear, however, that the monastery is just a resting spot for Valen, who has been on the run from the time he was fifteen. He left his family rather than face the restrictive life of a pureblood. Purebloods have magical powers, and Valen has inherited some those abilities. He also got a book, the original volume of Maps of the Known World, drawn by the greatest pureblood cartographer, who is also Valen's grandfather. It is ironic he has the book as Valen is incapable of reading: when he tries, the letters dance on the page. Since most pureblood magic is spells, this leaves Valen in an awkward position: as a pureblood, he must be bound in service, but he cannot learn any written spells. Indeed, Valen must also hide his illiteracy from the monks, who require reading as an ability to join the order.
When the Abbot begins to take an unusual interest in the newest member to the monastery, Valen begins to wonder if maybe his secret is not so well kept. In a short time, Valen is brought in on the Lighthouse conspiracy, a secret society hiding an archive of human knowledge, stored against the threat of civilization falling. That possibility seems very real, as the climate is turning colder, plagues are sweeping the land and groups of Harrowers, those who deny the elder gods and loathe both farming and cities, sow destruction and death in their wake. The land of Navronne is on the edge of chaos and the fight between the three heirs to the throne is only added to the confusing. Valen is surprised to be a member of the secret group, but soon realizes some believe his book of maps are the key to a magical solution to Navronne's woes and that Valen might be the only one who can use them.
In this first volume of The Lighthouse Duet, Berg creates a troubled world full of politics, anarchy and dark magic. It is the growth in Valen's character that brings heart to this work: he is certainly a self-centered rascal at the start of the book, but as he comes to form attachments to the brothers and others in the Lighthouse group, Valen becomes more likeable. There is also the intriguing question of why Valen can't read and yet can use the book of maps. The magic is fascinating in this book, which describes not just pureblood spells but the mystic workings of the Harrowers. This fast-paced novel captivated me and I am looking forward to Breath and Bone, the concluding volume to the series.