“Breath and Bone” is the second book in Carol Berg’s Lighthouse Duet. It picks up where Flesh and Spirit rather abruptly cuts off. I would recommend reading the two books at one time, as it has the general feel of a book that has been cut into two to make the length of each segment seem more manageable.
In Flesh and Spirit, I spent the first couple hundred pages thinking that Valen, the protagonist, was a little prick. He seemed to care naught for any sense of duty or responsibility, but instead care only about himself and his own rebelliousness. In this book, many of Valen’s idiosyncrasies are explained, when it is revealed that he is part Danae (Berg’s version of fairy). For example, one thing that bothered me about Valen was his inability to read, which I put down to willful ignorance. As it turns out, the Danae can’t read, and are unable to make sense of written symbols. Valen’s ability to interpret maps (but not any words written on them) is a byproduct of the sorcerer/cartographer side of his family.
The Danae provide the link between the events that have been plaguing Navronne. While most humans don’t even acknowledge the existence of the Danae, they play an important role in maintaining the balance of the world. Danae dances restore harmony to the earth and protect it from pestilence and decay. However, many years ago, a half-human Danae corrupted the Canon, or dance. When a Danae holy site is corrupted, it disappears from their collective memory, preventing them from being able to heal it or dance there. Because it was a half-human who originally screwed things up, the Danae are suspicious of any halflings, and will go as far as crippling them to prevent them from being able to dance.
Meanwhile, back in Navronne, a cult called the Harrowers have been deliberately corrupting holy sites. The Harrowers believe that the world is too unequal, impure, and evil to be allowed to continue. Once they have razed all semblance of civilization to the ground, they intend to repopulate the Earth in such a way as to erase all social divisions. As it turns out, Valen’s unique mixture of Pureblood Sorcerer and Danae bloodlines may make him the only person capable of preventing the Harrowers from destroying everything.
I enjoyed this one a lot. Berg’s writing does not disappoint, and many of the characters encountered in the previous book continued to surprise me. Some of the predictions that I had made in the last book were correct, but many were completely wrong. I think that many of the reservations that I felt during the last book were in part because the two books in The Lighthouse Duet have to be read together, and so the first half of the first book was largely spent setting up the story. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.
None of the characters in The Lighthouse Duet is perfect, which makes for an interesting read. Prince Osriel, the heir to the throne, who seems like a just and caring leader, has no qualms with enslaving the dead. Valen, our unlikely hero, is a full-blown drug addict. Even the Danae are capable of mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as being a bit xenophobic. At the same time, the villains use the corruption found from inequality and power as their motivation for striving to create a different type of society. The complexity of characters found in this duet is one of the greatest strengths of the two novels.
Overall, I’d recommend this one. It was my first time reading Carol Berg’s novels, and I’m quite glad that I did.