Breath and Bone
by Carol Berg
Review by Colleen Cahill
Roc Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451461865
Date: 02 January 2008 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Concluding a series, even one as short as two books, can be tricky. Expectations are built in the earlier work and it is up to the author to deliver satisfaction, not disappointment. Carol Berg has achieved a victory in Breath and Bone, which began with Flesh and Spirit: this work provides not only an exciting story, but gives us a conclusion with a gratifying ending. As we continue to explore the redemption of Valen, we also discover why he is key to saving not only the kingdom of Navronne and the Danae, but also preventing the sundering of the world.
Flesh and Spirit left Valen well on the way to atonement for his previously selfish life, as he became attached to the monks of Saint Ophir's Rule, joined the Lighthouse cabal in its goal to preserve civilization, and learned of loyalty and true friendship from a young monk. He is still addicted to the drug nivat and faces a painful period of withdrawal, as he has vowed never to take it again. This new Valen is much improved from the hedonistic one who ran from any responsibility, but he still has a cautious nature, especially when dealing with Prince Osriel, his lord and master. Valen is aware the prince has a plan to save Navronne from the Harrowers who want to take humans back to a state of purity by wiping out all civilization, but dark hints show that the prince could cause as much suffering as his enemies. Certainly Valen does not want Sila Diaglou, leader of the Harrowers, to succeed in her destruction of all culture, but he also wants to leave as few scars on Navronne and the Danae as possible.
Breath and Bone also deals with Valen's growing concern with the gods and whether he has a soul. It will be no surprise to any readers of the first book that Valen is not totally human: his unheard-of powers and inability to read point to another ancestry. It does not take too much guess work to determine he is part Danae, but I will not spoil the plot by giving away Valen's parentage or why he was conceived. Our hero was not just an accident, but brought about to solve a problem and correct an old error. Since he has never had contact with the Danae, Valen has little knowledge of their culture and he is untrained in Danae magic, much of which involves beautiful dancing. His first chance to rectify this lack comes when he travels to the land of the Danae with Prince Osriel, only to discover the prince is using Valen as a political pawn and that the Danae have great disdain for any half-breed. His rescue from being crippled is surprisingly by Osriel's doctor and a renegade Danae who turns out to be Valen's uncle. As he learns the ways of his other people, Valen begins to see the interweaving threads of humans and Danae, learning why Sila Diaglou and the Harrowers must be stopped before they destroy both peoples.
Berg has once again given us a fantasy that is full of wonder, intrigue and marvelous characters. Valen is a beautifully flawed hero, with a past that is less than virtuous but a desire to do the right thing, even if he is not sure he can. Prince Osriel is definitely a man of many faces, with the dark prince and friendly secretary Gram being just two of these. I especially enjoyed Saverian, the cranky, no-nonsense physician who is more than willing to give Valen a kick in the butt when she thinks he needs it. Of most importance is the ending of this work, which pulls no punches: people are hurt and die and Valen proves he can face responsibility, even when he is afraid he will not succeed.
To fully enjoy Breath and Bone, you need to read Spirit and Flesh first, but as both works are available, that should be no problem. I recommend this duo not only for its exciting plot and complex characters, but also for the admirable way the author deals with intricate ideas and still manages to provide a great conclusion.