Title: Flesh and Spirit
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Lighthouse #1
The rebellious son of a long line of pureblood cartographers and diviners, Valen has spent most of his life trying to escape what society — and his family — have ordained for him. His own mother has predicted that he will meet his doom in water, blood, and ice. Her divination seems fulfilled when a comrade abandons Valen in a rainy wilderness half-dead, addicted to an enchantment that converts pain to pleasure, and possessing only a stolen book of maps.
Offered sanctuary in a nearby monastery, Valen discovers that his book — rumored to lead men into the realm of angels — gains him entry into a world of secret societies, doomsayers, monks, princes, and madmen, all seeking to unlock the mystery of a coming dark age. To his dismay, Valen must face what he fled so long ago, for the key to Navronne’s doom is buried in half-forgotten myth and the secrets of his own past…
I finished this book and immediately went to get the second book so obviously, the author did something right. But I need to make clear that here that means ‘she gave me an interesting character I care about and promised me that some really interesting things will happen in the next book‘.
Valen is somewhat of a typical tortured (white, male) hero but a well done one. He does have some very good reasons for being tortured (really) and he doesn’t use it as an excuse to be a jerk. And it does result in some quite adorable ‘Help! I am suddenly having feelings again and I care! Make it stop!’ late in the book. But if you’re looking for something that inverts this trope of puts a totally fresh new spin on it this isn’t the book for you.
It’s also not like nothing interesting happens in this book. There’s a civil war going on in which three brothers are fighting for the throne. The harvests are bad and a doomsday sect is wreaking havoc and ‘cleansing’ people (by which they mean: killing them). Oh and for some reason the
fair folk Danae are really angry about something the humans did to them but nobody quite knows what it was. (They do know that pissed of Danae are bad news, though).
So that’s quite a bit going on, isn’t it? Well, yes, but Valen is usually nowhere near these things happening and only learns about them afterwards. Or he is very much involved in things but he doesn’t have enough information to know what exactly is going on. Or he is in a situation where he can’t do anything about what is happening. Or he doesn’t care because he’s busy with his magic pleasure drug addiction problem (or any of his numerous other problems…).
So it’s all going very slowly and for a large part of the book, I had no clue where all of this was going. And only at the very end, it became clear what Valen’s goal is going to be in book two. Because for most of Flesh and Spirit he was, well not passive but reactive. He does things to get away from his family, he does things to make his life more comfortable and yes, with time also because he cares about the people he meets or because he wants to know what is going on.
But even with the advantage of knowing that I am reading a novel and that most of the things that are happening around/near/with Valen have to be related somehow, I still had a hard time figuring out the bigger picture. And when I began to see something the book was over. Perhaps one should rather see this less as a duet and more as one book split into two. Because as a mid-point for a book it’s good. Some things are beginning to make sense, the hero now knows what to do, the sides are getting clearer. As a complete book, even one that is the beginning of a series, it had an awful lot of setting up and loose threads and very little actually happening.