A few months ago I wrote about the novel Transformation, by Carol Berg and I emphasised the strength of the characters in her writing. For regular followers of this blog, you will know that it is characters that I feel are the key to good writing, and for me at least, the most important aspect of a great novel. In this novel, Flesh and Spirit, Carol Berg once again shows she is masterful in creating brilliantly realised personalities, but this time she has been even more ambitious than usual. This is because she created an angry young man, who at times is very hard to empathise with, and makes for a very unusual lead character in a set of novels. This is both brave of Berg, and clever, because her creation Valen, is the perfect foil to tell this complex tale of family rebellion, bloodlines, and magic. It covers topics not normally associated with fantasy novels, such as drug addiction and family resentment, as Valen runs from the family life that has been ordained for him by his blood-ties and prophesy – his diviner mother even predicts the manner of his own death.
An enchantment based addiction, that turns pain into pleasure, goes a long way to almost destroying Valen. It is to Berg’s credit, that she manages to keep the readers empathy to Valen throughout these difficult chapters of his life, and the use of Valen’s sharp edge manages to keep us intrigued in this tale that is told through the eyes of this unconventional man. While often angry, he also has a strong wit, and a likeable way about him, even if he sometimes drains your patience by his behaviour. I found myself really liking him, despite his flaws and it is possibly these same flaws that make him such a well-defined character.
The story itself is also a great tale, and centres on a secret form of magic involving cartography that can revel secret folds of lands, or places that are otherwise missed between the boundaries of different worlds. This plays into most fantasy reader’s love of maps and reminds me of the post I wrote a while back on the different maps of fantasy worlds. I loved this tale and couldn’t get enough of it, and once again Carol Berg has reminded me why she is one of my favourite fantasy authors. If you like your characters to be slightly unconventional and shady too, this book might appeal to you…
The story starts with the novel Flesh and Spirit and continues with the book Breath and Bone. It doesn’t appear to be available on kindle or ebook which I think is a great shame as I think this will prevent many readers finding out what a great writer Berg is, but if you want to order the first paperback of this series, you can here.