Flesh and Spirit – Lighthouse Duet * Carol Berg Book Review

This was a difficult book to make it through for me. I kept looking around the corner expecting to find something that just was never there. I got bored during the first half and even though people thoroughly recommended it for its well rounded characters, the book never picked up the pace well enough to make it through.

The book was the winner of the 2009 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature
Finalist for the 2008 Colorado Book Award

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“Loyalty never put blood back in a man’s veins.”

The Story

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. Valen is a recondeur, a spell-casting Pureblood with the bent for maps, paths, trails and directions who escaped his family and the Registry to live a free life. For twelve years he has done as he pleased, living precariously and not always honestly, a slave to the nivat seeds that ease the sickness in him. Now twenty-seven, Valen – a thief, drug addict, liar, womaniser, and untrustworthy coward even – literally can’t read, and is unschooled in his magic because of his rebellious childhood. The harsh treatment of his father and siblings didn’t help form his character.

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.

Abandoned by his comrade Boreus and left greviously wounded near an abbey, Valen takes the sanctuary the Abbot offers, as well as the food and dry clothes, and spins his lies to avoid detection. Here 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…

The story is narrated in the first person by Valen, which is not usual in a fantasy book – I think because it’s harder to introduce a reader to an unfamiliar world when the narrator has no reason to lay down exposition and explanations where necessary. Yet because of Valen’s pondering nature, Berg manages to weave in exposition etc. smoothly. The first half of the book is a bit slow, but then it picks up and gets really interesting. The plot is quite complex, the details numerous and easy to miss, so it took me a while to read. Valen is a great character: flawed, at times cowardly, yet perhaps because he’s the Black Sheep and we share his thoughts and understand his fears, he’s charismatic and attractive to me.

I loved the focus on the land, on the pulse of the earth and the Danae who feel betrayed and now hate humans, and it was interesting to read a pre-apocalyptic fantasy novel that wasn’t centred around some powerful, corrupt magic-wielder who must be stopped: it is not one man or woman, but all men and women, who are causing ruination.

What is less understandable, and what made me struggle through the first half more so than the second, are Valen’s descriptions of places, scenery and even events. I was often confused, unable to clearly picture what was going on, and in the end had to stop trying. So I have a lot of vague, unformed pictures in my head when I think on certain scenes.

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