Carol Berg’s novel “Flesh and Spirit” is the first book of The Lighthouse Duet. It tells the story of Valen, a young runaway pureblood sorcerer/cartographer, as he finds his place in life amid troubled times. His story begins when he is injured and his “friend” empties his pockets and dumps him at a monastery. Valen decides to join the monks, mostly because there’s a famine in Navronne and the monastery appears to have an abundance of food. There, he learns that the world as he knows it is threatened and that his mysterious past bears the key to saving it. With the help of a book of maps given to him by his insane grandfather, Valen has the ability to locate sites sacred to the Danae (this story’s equivalent of fairies or angels). Meanwhile, he is ever plagued by his addiction to nivat, a drug that converts a person’s pain into pleasure.
Berg handles the social status of sorcerers in a unique way. Because sorcery runs in bloodlines, the breeding status of magicians is carefully restricted so as to preserve the strength of magic. Sorcerers are treated as glorified slaves/contractors–they’re given a very high social status and live in luxury, but their choices are not their own. At the same time, they see this as a fair tradeoff, and compare it to the sacrifices that any person must make for their professions, counting themselves luckier than most. The most shameful thing a sorcerer can do is to run away, and a runaway magician faces a multitude of punishments including increased restriction and public humiliation. By choosing to run, a Pureblood shows that he cares about himself more than serving the greater interests of Navronne.
Not gonna lie, for the first two hundred or so pages, I thought that Valen was a spoiled entitled brat. My opinion changed (as evidenced by the fact that I stayed up until the wee hours of last night finishing the book) as Valen began to mature and evolve into a more complex character. We learn that his own Pureblood family was dysfunctional, giving him some extra justification in his choice to run. His involvement with the monks’ secret plots to preserve civilization taught him to begin caring about others, and even when he was acting as a spoiled brat he had an incredibly strong sense of honor and placed immense value upon his given word.
Berg’s writing is okay, although during the first two hundred pages I got the feeling that she was trying a bit too hard, and that some of it seemed a bit forced. That did get better as the book progressed. My one real complaint is that this book doesn’t end, but rather cuts off abruptly. Lucky for me, I already have the second book, which I shall be starting immediately! Buahahahaha!