At the start of this chilling fantasy from Berg (Daughter of Ancients), the first of a pair set in the land of Navronne, her rebellious hero, 27-year-old Valen, has been hiding from his pureblood family of sorcerers for 12 years. Valen, who’s also struggling with a kind of drug addiction called “doulon sickness,” possesses his grandfather’s magical book, Maps of the Known World (“Legend said it could lead men to the realm of angels”). The book is Valen’s passport to sanctuary with the learned monks of Gillarine Abbey, who believe he can unlock its magic. After his family discovers him, Valen becomes resolved to learn the book’s power. At stake is not only the protection of an innocent boy sheltered at the abbey from greedy princes vying for control of their dead father’s kingdom but also the entire world’s salvation. Like much fantasy marketed as “adult” today, this well-written novel is suitable for readers as young as middle-schoolers, though some preteens may find it a bit too dark and slow for their tastes.
I really enjoy Carol Berg. She’s an author with a distinctive voice and her subject matter is never disappointing. Berg (at least in my opinion) is unique in the genre because she usually writes in first person and most of her characters seem to be older than the average fantasy character and they are almost always flawed somehow. Valen, the hero in Flesh and Spirit, is no different.
Flesh and Spirit has an almost agonizing slow start. Valen is left badly injured, with nothing but a book, to seek refuge in a nearby monastery. The first part of the book is mostly focused on Valen healing and integrating himself in monestary life. Berg uses this section to fill the reader in on back-story and world building. If the reader can make it through this first chunk, her story will not disappoint. The plot quickly picks up pace and becomes absorbing.
I really enjoyed the magic system she created. The idea of Purebloods and a Registry added a dark, complex aspect to her world that was characteristic of Berg, and her returning theme of slavery and freedom. Without this interesting aspect, I felt as though her world would have been far less engaging than it truly was. This not only added depth and color to her world, but also to Valen, where these two concepts took a central role in his development.
Berg’s characterization is fantastic, though I don’t think Valen popped as much as characters of her other series. Regardless, his story was well told, his voice is distinctive and his history interesting. Valen is made complex with a dark past and an addiction he wrestles with throughout the book, making him pop. However, I did feel as though many of her secondary characters were slightly cliché and bland, but it’s easy to overlook.
Berg’s literary skills are incredible. One thing I will always love about her is her ability to weave together a flawless story filled with betrayal and struggle while building an incredible world and developing complex, multi-faceted characters. Her subject matter is strikingly human; her writing is graceful and artistic without ever going over the top.
Flesh and Spirit is wrought with the struggle of the human soul. The story is shockingly dark and filled with dramatic inner struggles of the spirit. This seems to be a calling card for Berg’s work, as most of her books are filled with this theme, but that’s another thing I love about her. She’s willing to attack intense inner struggles in a humanizing, relatable and amazingly graceful way.
While I don’t think this book is as good as her Rai Kirah series, which remains one of my favorites, it is still a series to pay attention to. Berg constantly amazes me. Her writing and subject matter, while serius, is a breath of fresh air. Even when though this book isn’t as good as some of her other works, it’s still a joy to read and a step above a lot of what’s currently out there. She is an author to note and Flesh and Spirit is a book to pay attention to. This is a duology, the following book is called Breath and Bone, and is one I will eagerly devour.
Berg’s subject matter is dark, so for readers who do not enjoy that kind of thing, take note. The short two-book long series may appeal to readers who are not interested in longer series.