Sunday, January 10, 2016

Challenging Epic Fantasy Novels - The Sanctuary Duet by Carol Berg

I'm an unapologetic fan/writer of fantasy and science fiction novels - even before it was cool to be nerdy. My all-time favorite author is Carol Berg. Since I'm not keen on social media, I decided to write reviews of her two most recent novels on Amazon. I figured I would post the more thorough reviews here on my blog.

So, here goes. Happy New Year, Carol!

Dust and Light by Carol Berg

As a dedicated follower of Carol Berg’s work, I’ve read and own every single one of her novels. After finishing one of her novels, I often find myself needing time to reflect on the scope of the story before singing its praises. I’ve waited to review the Sanctuary Duet until Ash and Silver was released. This review is for Dust and Light, the first novel in the Sanctuary Duet.

I devoured this book, since I was so excited to return to the world of the Lighthouse Duet.

You don’t necessarily need to read the Lighthouse Duet (Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone) before reading Dust and Light, but it will help you to understand the complexities of the world and its magic. Just like Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone, which starts with the “Canticle of the Autumn,” the first pages of Dust and Light starts with the “Canticle of the Winter.” In this poem, we are given the lovely words: “My heart yearns for warmth, for companionship, for glory. Yet waking is storm. ‘Tis harsh magic to dance on ice.” You can really learn everything you need to know about this story from those few lines.

The novel is broken into four parts. In Part One, we meet our main character, Lucian de Remeni-Masson, a Pureblood artist who has just lost his cushy desk job painting portraits for the Pureblood Registry. (If your brain immediately went to the purebloods of Vampire Knight, no worries, mine did too.) He is quickly pushed into a job working for the city’s coroner, doing identification portraits for the dead. One of the first portraits he does for Bastien the coroner is of a murdered preteen – but the image his magical “bent” reveals is markedly different from the murdered girl. Thus begins the unraveling of a mystery and the gradual unmaking of Lucian de Remeni-Masson.

Things you’ll encounter in this book:
  • Pureblood customs (like wearing a mask while in public)
  • The Danae, whose speech patterns are one of my favorite elements of this world 
  • An oubliette, which always makes me think of the movie Mio in the Land of Faraway 
  • A necropolis, where Lucian and Bastien work to identify lost souls 
  • A coroner's inquest 
  • Excruciating descriptions of Lucian’s efforts to maintain sanity while confined for 158 days by the Pureblood Registry
  • Lovely prose describing Lucien's magic and art
  • Hints of lost love between a Pureblood and a human (at university, of course) 
  • Forbidden magic 
  • A mystery of magical talent, royal succession, the Everlasting, a hidden land called Sanctuary, a lost city named Xanchiera, a murder inquest, and treachery within the walls of the Pureblood Registry 

At the end of the novel, Lucian is at a crossroads - accused of murder, his sister safe in Sanctuary, his options severely limited. He encounters two horsemen who offer to take him to “a house of cleansing, where a man can erase what’s past and building his life anew.” In the last 3 pages, Lucian willingly gives up all memories of his past and joins the Equites CinerĂ©. He and his two companions ride off to Fortress Evanide. 
This leads us straight to the next novel in the series, Ash and Silver.

I've posted a drawing of a Danae on this blog before, so here it is for reference.

Ash and Silver by Carol Berg

I loan copies of Carol Berg's books out frequently, but rarely get them back. After finishing Ash and Silver, I was conflicted and not sure how I felt about the story. I felt the same way after reading her Collegia Magica series, so I knew it was a good sign, since I grew to love that series after I had some time to think about it. Dante from Collegia Magica and Seyonne from the Rai-Kirah series rank among my favorite characters.  

I read the Kindle version in one night (the day after it was released), and re-read the paperback version over several days before the winter holidays, then re-read both Dust and Light/Ash and Silver in one marathon weekend. This review is for Ash and Silver, the second/final novel in the Sanctuary Duet.

You (obviously) need to read Ash and Silver after Dust and Light, else the transformation of the main character will be meaningless.

Just like Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone, which starts with the “Canticle of the Autumn,” and Dust and Light, which starts with the “Canticle of the Winter,” the first pages of Ash and Silver starts with the “Canticle of the Spring.” In this poem, we are given the hopeful words: “Dance, my brother. Spin, my sister. For root and sap, for wave and worm. Call glory to banish grief too long lingered.” You can learn everything you need to know about this story from those few lines.

Somewhere I've missed the "Canticle of the Summer" - if I find it, I'll update the post.

This novel is also broken into four parts. In Part One, we meet our main character, Greenshank, a member of the Equites Cineré, or Knights of the Ashes. He has been given fragments of his life back over the course of several years, as he trained with his brothers-in-arms at Fortress Evanide. From the fragments, we know he was once Lucian de Remeni-Masson. During one of his first solo outings in service to the Knights, he encounters a beautiful woman who claims to know him, calls him Lucian, and says she is his friend and needs his help. The experience of being near her rouses sensation and disconnected feeling, but no memory.

Carol Berg gifts us with wonderful language, as usual, with lines like: “Deception grew like a fungus.” It's a marvelous image. Lucian’s narration tells us that “[t]he emblem of the Equites CinerĂ© ought to be a phoenix, as we were each of us built anew from the ashes of the past.” Another favorite line: “The world shook itself like a wet pup and trotted off in a new direction.”

Greenshank/Lucian eventually tells his Knight Commander of the encounter, which catalyzes the action of the story, and we are drawn further into the lost city of Xanchiera, the origin of the Knights of the Ashes, the history of the Pureblood Registry, and the connection between the Danae and the hidden lands of Sanctuary.

Things you’ll encounter in the book:
  • Training montages (a must in modern fantasy!)
  • Tense meetings with the Danae
  • The concept of intaglio in art
  • Hints of 200-year old memory magic, with individual memories contained in a stone relict (this made me think of Aeon Flux)
  • A boat named Dorye, which is used frequently as Greenshank encounters more of his past (think Dory from Finding Nemo and you’ll be amused)
  • Cameos from some of my favorite characters from the Lighthouse Duet
  • The idea of magical threading – “affixing a sliver of metal or chip of a gemstone to the body with threads of magic to hold a particular spell”
  • The idea that silver is a strong medium for spellwork
  • The survivors of Xanchiera and their connections to both the Pureblood Registry and the Knights of the Ashes
  • And, my personal favorite, a main character named Morgan!

SPOILER: Nearing the end of the novel, our main character is no longer Lucian de Remeni-Masson, not Greenshank, nor Axe – he names himself the One-Who-Waits, or Aros to his fellow Knights and few remaining friends. We are left with a magic-wielding hero with a minor savior complex, bearing a scarred face, who was a slave for a time, with a tantalizingly complicated past – which sounds just like both of my favorite characters mentioned above. 

I'll be patiently awaiting Carol Berg's next work, hopefully in a new world with new amazing characters. For now, I'll content myself with re-reading Song of the Beast, the Rai-Kirah Series, the Bridge of D'Arnath Series, the Collegia Magica Series, the Lighthouse Duet, and the Sanctuary Duet

Check out Carol Berg's "Big Idea" for this book from John Scalzi's Whatever blog - December 9, 2015. Thanks, Mr. Scalzi, for allowing Carol Berg to guest post her "Big Idea."

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