Carol Berg: Restauration

618198Title: Restoration
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah, #3

By the time Seyonne survived sixteen years of slavery, reclaimed his life, and watched it slip away again he had undeniable evidence of the gods. Now, exiled from his homeland, he is left to face the demon inside his soul. Meanwhile, the Hamraschi have sworn to destroy Prince Aleksander and anyone who shelters him. Assassins abound. And when Seyonne journeys across the borders of the world to finally confront his own haunted dreams and put them to rest, he discovers instead something both unreservedly terrifying and thrilling. Soon he will become all that he ever feared… 

RatingB

There is no evil one human will not work on another.

I rarely say this about fantasy novels but: this book would have worked better if it had been longer. And had had more POV-characters. Now usually I appreciate it when fantasy-authors manage to keep their stories short(ish) and limit their POV-characters but in this book, there was too much major stuff going on off-screen.

Seyonne continues his journey from the last book. After all, he made an irreversible decision in the last book, one that went against everything his people believed. Now things are happening that make him question if he really did the right thing. And because having only one thing to worry about would be boring there’s more: Even if he did the right thing, his work isn’t done. And he is scared of the consequences of him taking the next step.

But Seyonne isn’t the only one with a problem. The unrests Aleksander had to deal with in the last book have turned into a full-blown rebellion. A massive one. And now he is well and truly fucked and has to think and act quickly if he doesn’t want to end up as head on a spike. And he and Seyonne are together for large parts of the book and we see how both of them are working on their problems. But for about the last third they are separated and we only see what Seyonne is doing. And in that last third, the major things happen. For Aleksander, that means major win-your-kingdom back battles and various other problems you can guess if you’ve read the previous books. And all of that happens off-screen which is disappointing. Even if the finale we actually got to see was still epic.

But in the end: what drew me into the series was the beautiful friendship of Aleksander and Seyonne in book one. And I appreciated how Berg completely turned my expectations about where the plot was going on its head in book two. But I also missed that friendship because they spent most of the time apart. Now, Restauration again has lots of interactions between them and I loved them. (And that epic finale I mentioned? I still can’t even). So even though I would have loved to see more off Aleksander’s storyline, I still got all the things I came to this series for.


Review of Revelation (Rai-Kirah #2)
Review of Transformation (Rai-Kirah #1)

Revelation (Rai-Kirah #2)

618197Title: Revelation
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah #2

The former slave Seyonne, is busy fighting demons in the mental landscapes where they possess the living, just as his people always have–until the day when he meets a demon who is not a ravening beast, but an urbane charming being who knows altogether too much about Seyonne. To the pursuit of an explanation, and a new justice based on that knowledge, Seyonne is prepared to sacrifice everything he has–including his friendship with the Imperial Prince Aleksander and his marriage to his own queen Ysanne. 

Rating: C+

As had happened each time I thought I had discovered the true depth of despair, I turned another corner and found the way still pointed downwards.

It’s rare that a single quote encapsulates a book so perfectly but this one tells you everything you need to know about Seyonne. He quickly reaches a point that makes the events of the first book look harmless – already an achievement – and then things still continue to get worse. As a result, the book slides quite close to the Dark, Edgy and Miserable(TM) territory (something Berg managed to avoid in her other books, despite their protagonists always being really unlucky). So especially during the middle part, it dragged a lot and I managed only one or two chapters per day. It wasn’t because it was boring; I just couldn’t cope with that much misery at once. Seyonne just couldn’t catch a break.

At the same time, the overarching plot is fascinating. It goes in a completely different direction than I would have expected after the first book. While Transformation had a pretty standard (but incredibly well done) fantasy plot of ‘We have to fight the demons’, Revelation now asks ‘Why do we have to fight the demons?’ and the answers to that are hard to stomach. And these parts remind me again why I love Carol Berg’s books so much. It starts off with typical fantasy tropes and then digs really deep into it. She doesn’t subvert them in some high-and-mighty ‘actually fantasy is crap and if this was reality everything would be horrible so I’ll write about how horrible everybody is’-way. It’s rather about ‘We’ve always done it like this and we can’t suddenly change our ways is a really bad reason for doing something’. Especially, if, like in this case, you really don’t know anymore why you’re doing something.

But also, after having enjoyed the great relationship between Seyonne and Aleksander in the first book, none of those in this one could match it. Aleksander himself is absent for most parts and while there are other interesting characters they all only stay with him for a short while and so the relationships with them lack the depths and simply weren’t as fun to read.


Review of Book 1


This is also part of my 16 Tasks of the Festive Season reading:

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Book themes for Las Posadas: Read a book where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a ‘no room at the Inn’ situation.

Seyonne is very much stranded. His own people exile him and then he does find a place to stay in the sense of a room with a bed but he isn’t really welcome there.

Ash and Silver (Sanctuary #2)

25176096Title: Ash and Silver
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Sanctuary #2

Ever since the Order of the EquitesCineré stole his memory, his name, and his heart, thinking about the past makes Greenshank’s head ache. After two years of rigorous training, he is almost ready to embrace the mission of the Order—to use selfless magic to heal the troubles of Navronne. But on his first assignment alone, the past comes racing back, threatening to drown him in conspiracy, grief, and murder.

He is Lucian de Remeni—a sorcerer whose magical bents for portraiture and history threaten the safety of the earth and the future of the war-riven kingdom of Navronne. He just can’t remember how or why.

Fighting to unravel the mysteries of his power, Lucian must trace threads of corruption that reach from the Pureblood Registry into the Order itself, the truth hidden two centuries in the past and beyond the boundaries of the world…

RatingC-

I stand by my opinion that people who are not me might enjoy the Sanctuary Duet a lot. Unfortunately, I am me and I still don’t enjoy conspiracy thrillers. And while Dust and Light had at least a very entertaining murder mystery B-plot, Ash and Silver is all about the conspiracy. Well, and Lucian’s lost memories. I like the amnesia trope about as much as conspiracy plots. Still, like for the first book, I have to say that I might dislike the trope in general but it’s still well written. The complete confusion before Lucian’s memories come partly back isn’t drawn out too much and there are enough other things to keep him (and the reader) busy. Very busy in fact. And that’s where I’m again back to a complaint I already had about the first book: there is only so much of a character being constantly on the run and almost getting killed or seriously injured I can take before I refuse to believe that a single person could get through this. At some point, I just crossed the line where I felt for Lucian because yet another thing went wrong and just rolled my eyes and thought ‘seriously?’

Besides, one of the things I always enjoy about Carol Berg novels are the friendships. Her characters might start off as lone wolves but over the course of the story, they meet somebody with whom they form a strong bond. And all of these friendships feel so well-developed and go far beyond what you usually find in fantasy novels. In Dust and Light Lucian had Bastien but while he still appears in the second book his screen-time is much shorter. And, with the conspiracy plot getting turned up to 11, there really isn’t anybody else he can form such a friendship with. He can trust nobody and everybody at least quadruple-crosses him because that’s what happens in conspiracy thrillers…

Last but not least: I wasn’t a fan of the ending. I am used to endings that don’t rule out another book completely from Berg’s other novels. But this one felt a lot like a very strange sequel hook.


Review of book 1

Dust and Light (Sanctuary #1)

18683282Title: Dust and Light
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Sanctuary #1

How much must one pay for an hour of youthful folly? The Pureblood Registry accused Lucian de Remeni-Masson of “unseemly involvement with ordinaries,” which meant only that he spoke with a young woman not of his own kind, allowed her to see his face unmasked, worked a bit of magic for her….After that one mistake, Lucian’s grandsire excised half his magic and savage Harrowers massacred his family. Now the Registry has contracted his art to a common coroner. His extraordinary gift for portraiture is restricted to dead ordinaries—beggars or starvelings hauled from the streets.

But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences. Sensations not his own. Truths he cannot possibly know and dares not believe. The coroner calls him a cheat and says he is trying to weasel out of a humiliating contract. The Registry will call him mad—and mad sorcerers are very dangerous….

RatingC

One part of Dust and Light is a buddy cop movie. No, seriously. There’s the new guy who is a posh bloke, arrogant, privileged and obsessed with obeying rules to the letter. And there’s a working class guy who has been doing this job for a long time who is very aware that justice sometimes clashes with what is legal. Of course, they can’t stand each other at first. But then a murdered child turns up and they realize that both want the person behind this to pay for their crime. There is also some mutual life-saving involved and soon they’re willing to do everything for each other.
The other part of the book is a conspiracy thriller. Lucian discovers that he has some very powerful enemies. He has no idea why they are after him but he soon learns that he can trust nobody. Now he somehow has to find out what’s so special about him that the whole magical government is after him while also avoiding being captured by said magical government. (And catch a child-killer. Because the constant threat of imprisonment and worse is no excuse to neglect your strong moral compass).

I love buddy cop shows. I hate conspiracy thrillers. And the thriller is the main plot. Now despite my dislike for that particular genre: it’s a very well done one. The more Lucian finds out about the why the less he knows whom he can trust. And the more he has to deal with what this why means for him and his convictions. Carol Berg once said that she likes to put her heroes in situations where they have to go against their most valued beliefs and that is very true for Lucian. I really felt for him that on top of everything he also has to come to terms with something that major.

And all that made me often almost forget that all the conspiracy thriller tropes actually exhaust me. But then came yet another scene that made me wonder why Lucian hasn’t collapsed from exhaustion at an inopportune moment because he spent the last three days mostly without sleep, constantly running and getting beaten up at least once. Or he got attacked and my first thought was ‘Well, there’s about 8 possible choices for who did this’. So I was annoyed and at the same time really wanted to know how it all continues. (I still do and so I will read book two). Somebody who is less bothered by these tropes will probably enjoy this book more than I did. But for me, it’s a book I liked but one that won’t get a space on my favorite shelf.

Song of the Beast

11338966Title: Song of the Beast
Author: Carol Berg

Brutal imprisonment has broken Aidan McAllister. Once the most famous musician of his generation, celebrated as a man beloved of the gods, his voice is now silent, his hands ruined, his music that offered beauty and hope to war-torn Elyria destroyed. Even the god who nurtured his talent since boyhood has abandoned him. But no one ever told him his crime. To discover the truth, he must risk his hard-bought freedom to unlock the mind of his god and the heart of his enemy.

RatingB

 

I did not know how to offer love or how to recognize it when it was offered to me, though I was fairly certain it did not come from those who told you in the same breath that they wanted to slit your throat.

One thing I really enjoyed about the Carol Berg books I’d read so far was that romance didn’t play a huge part in them. I don’t mind romance but I get annoyed when people who should be busy saving the world just talk about their heartache. So I was not too happy when both Aiden and Lara spent a lot of time in their POV-chapters talking about their own feelings and how sure they were that the other one could never reciprocate them.
But then both of them had very good reasons to think so, it wasn’t some ridiculous melodrama blown out of proportion. And while especially Lara’s chapters are sometimes really dripping with self-hatred and her ‘I’m sure he can’t stand me’ gets somewhat repetitive I can easily see why she is like that.
Oh well, and the romance has some of my favourite tropes. They have to pretend to be a couple twice. There’s dancing and live-saving and Aidan has to keep calming Lara down because really she just wants to kill people. Exactly my kind of couple. If you have romance in your fantasy, please do it like that.

And then there’s the villains. Or rather the lack of typical fantasy villains. Nobody wants to destroy the world for the evilulz. Nobody wants to kill the king. No foreign power threatens to conquer the country and enslave the people.
The closest thing we get to villains are the dragonriders (and yes, they admittedly don’t have that much depth) but even they don’t want more power than they already have. They just want to keep the power they have. And when that status quo is threatened they are Not Happy. But they are not the main reason for the bad things that happen in this book. The main reason is bad decision making. Some were made by the characters in this book. Some by their ancestors and they are now stuck with them. Admitting that those decisions were bad would lead to disaster. And now they all hope that they can just carry on as before, even if that means making some more bad decisions.

Now there are some things that show it’s the author’s first book. There are some info-dumps early on about the character’s past and the worldbuilding. Through the changing POVs we also get some pieces of information twice and the final battle is somewhat anticlimactic but those are just minor things in an otherwise great book. (And a single-volume fantasy no less! I can’t remember the last time an author managed to fit a whole epic fantasy in a single book).

Transformation (Rai-Kirah #1)

Title: Transformation
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah #1

Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place…

RatingA

No, my lord. It is your heart. Difficult as it may be to comprehend, there is a possibility you may have one.
Look at that blurb. And then at that cover. I know how this looks but this isn’t a highly problematic gay romance. It is a beautiful story but also one that’s probably not for everybody.
Slavery in fantasy-stories isn’t unusual but most books shy away from really touching the topic. It mostly happens far away to Other People. If it happens to our protagonists he either remained strong and resistant and honourable through the worst abuse or has the great luck to meet the one Nice Guy master who does not abuse the human being he owns for fun (even though everybody else in the story does).
Transformation doesn’t go that way. The first few chapters are not easy to read because some horrible things are done to Seyonne. (It’s not needlessly graphic but also doesn’t leave any doubts about how bad it is). And Aleksander does some of these horrible things. He’s a spoiled brat with a frightening amount of power who has never thought about the consequences of his actions.
He gets better.
And I’m buying his redemption arc. There is no long and meaningful conversation between him and Seyonne where he explains how sorry he is and how he realizes how horrible he’s been. There are only two or three short scenes where he says things that make it clear that his views have changed drastically. He also does a lot of things to make up for his behavior. (Yes, I know that threatening to kill people if Seyonne gets hurt is not a sensible or healthy thing to do but it is very delightful. And it’s not the only thing he does).
So yes, for me his ark worked but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who see him at the beginning and don’t want to see anything more of him.
And since that book is about Aleksander, Seyonne and how they and their relationship changes over the course of it, you will only enjoy it if you buy the redemption. Sure, it’s a fantasy novel where the protagonists fight demons but that part is so closely linked to the characters that you will not enjoy it if you don’t like them.
So what I have just said in many words is that this is a very character-driven story and that I like the characters a lot. Is the book perfect? No, there are some pacing-issues towards the end. A lot happens on the last 100 pages. Actual action and revelations and you get barely time to comprehend all of it because there are already three more things happening simultaneously. At the very end, there is even something that I expected to be the sequel-hook but it gets resolved in 5 pages.
But…I don’t care. I still loved it because it shamelessly panders to preferences. A fantasy novel with a small cast of characters and focus on their relationship, mages, a world that isn’t just fantasy medieval Western Europe and even though it’s dark it never feels dark and gritty(TM) just for the sake of being dark and gritty.

The Demon Prism (Collegia Magica #3)

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Title: The Daemon Prism
Author
: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica #3

Dante the necromancer is the most reviled man in Sabria, indicted by the king, the Temple, and the Camarilla Magica for crimes against the living and the dead. Blinded by his enemy’s cruel vengeance, Dante salves pain and bitterness by preparing his student, Anne de Vernase, to heal the tear in the Veil between life and death. 
When Anne abandons him to return to her family, Dante seeks refuge in a magical puzzle, a desperate soldier’s dream of an imprisoned enchantress and a faceted glass that can fulfill one’s uttermost desires. But the dream is a seductive trap that threatens to unleash the very cataclysm Dante fears. Haunted, desperate, the blind mage embarks on a journey into madness, ancient magic, and sacred mystery, only to confront the terrifying truth of his own destiny…

RatingA-

She raises grapes. I raise the dead.

If that quote doesn’t make you want to read the series I can’t help you…

The Spirit Lens and The Soul Mirror read like mysteries. Of course, there was magic and the mystery wasn’t simply ‘who killed him?’. It was ‘who is behind the conspiracy that aims to set off the magical equivalent of a nuclear bomb?’ but there were clues, red herrings, everything a good mystery has. The Demon Prism is more conventional epic fantasy. There is a problem, a bigger one than the magical nuclear bomb and our heroes have to stop it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s quite your typical ‘group on a journey to stop the big bad’ either. The characters are all at different places at the beginning of the book. Different things make them think something is wrong and set out on their journey. They meet others, loose them again and find somebody else. They don’t always know what has happened to those that aren’t with them which makes for some gut-wrenching reading. Character- and relationship-development had been a strength of the previous books and so there is no doubt about how much these people mean to one another. And them thinking the worst and grieving you just wanted to reach through the pages to give them a hug. (And a blanket. And cookies).

Though people who come to the epic fantasy for the big battles will be disappointed. Even though there are three powerful mages, a master swordsman and a really really powerful big bad there isn’t much battle action. You get to see much more of the fight with the big bad’s henchmen than of the actual boss battle. I didn’t mind because I knew the henchmen much better and wanted to see them getting their comeuppance. (On a side note: Berg is brilliant and writing characters you despise and then give them extremely satisfying ‘reality ensues’ endings).

Now for all my flailing (and crying), this book isn’t without fault. It drags a bit halfway through. Dante is imprisoned and the reader is stuck with him. Things become somewhat repetitive. But those bits also contained some of the most chilling scenes when we saw the effect it had on Dante. It still could have been condensed a bit more but I’m again complaining on a very high level.

So go and read all the Collegia Magica books. And then have feelings together with me.

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It’s funny because the grumpy necromancer learns that friendship is indeed magic.