greek_amazon: (Books)
[personal profile] greek_amazon
One of the things about suddenly having free time after previously having very little, is that it sometimes takes me a little while to remember how free time actually works. Books are an excellent example of this. As soon as I have free time, I start reading about twenty of them at once. It usually takes a bit before I settle down and pick one to read through to the end.
And that one is usually not any of the twenty that I had initially started.
So it was with this book.

Title: Flesh and Spirit
Author: Carol Berg
Published: 2007
Was This Book Good?: Yes

How I Came to Read It: This book eluded me for a long time. You see, one of the bookstores that I frequent consistently has the second book of this series in stock. The second book looks very good. It also consistently does NOT have the first book (i.e.; Flesh and Spirit.) I spent... half a year? Looking for this book in every bookstore I visited (which is quite a few) with no luck. Yes, I know I could have ordered it online. I do like to support local booksellers, though, and I don't need to get into the habit of "want book? Okay, intarwebs." I would be so very broke if I did that. During the midterm season, I finally found it at a local Chapters, and bought it because looking for it had been so frustrating. I wasn't able to read it right then, of course, and so it sat, sadly, until I picked it up about a week ago.

Thoughts?: I enjoyed this book. A quick glance at this book would show that it features a story common to many a fantasy novel; that of the king (or in this case, magician) who has abandoned his duty but is required to return to it for reasons related to the plot of the novel. Of course, there's much more to the story the story than that - including a protagonist that's battling with addiction, otherworldly entities, politics that remind me a lot of the Hellenistic Greek world and secret societies akin to the 'Illuminati' so commonly found in stories that take place at any point from the 1800s to the present, yet are rarely present in fantasy novels such as this one. (Also different in that the secret society actually does something other than be secret.)
I truly enjoy Berg's descriptions - she has a gift for rich, luscious ones that make the world feel real in a very tactile sort of way. This was particularly evident towards the end of the book when one character was killed in an especially gruesome manner; it turned my stomach a bit. And understand that I am not of the sort that is easily physically disturbed. (If my lack of reaction to gory movies isn't proof, the fact that I study forensics, perform dissections with enjoyment and am the sort of person looks closer at, not away from, dead things ought to be.) Of course it helps that you can get attached to Berg's characters very easily, and so when they come to an ignoble death you feel as offended and sickened as any of their friends might. I do find, however, that the extensive descriptions mean I can't read the book too quickly, for since each sentence is so packed with information, it also cannot be ignored without missing out. This is especially noticeable in action or especially climatic scenes, which I do think are one of Berg's weaknesses - I often found it difficult to keep the train of what was happening at these times, the descriptions sometimes overpowering the thread of the events. I had to reread at least a few scenes in the book because of it, which was a bit of a disappointment. It was even more of a disappointment when compared with some of Berg's other action/climatic scenes which were not clouded by description and were some of the most powerful scenes in the book - knowing that the other scenes could have been (and were likely meant to be) just as strong made me as a reader kind of sad.
The world that Berg created in Flesh and Spirit is a very interesting one, with rules and traditions that kind of make me wish I could study the culture as an anthropologist. The role of the Purebloods in particular is fascinating, and I hope to learn more about it in the second book. I also like the attitudes towards sexuality in the book, and I really, REALLY like the way that Berg has Valen (the main character) think about sexuality - that is, at the fore of his mind in certain situations (dancing with a woman at a tavern, or being propositioned by some prostitutes in an alleyway, for example) but rarely worthy of consideration otherwise. Plus there's something about the way that Berg writes these brief romantic ('romantic'?) encounters that is just fun and allows the reader to really understand whatever attraction it is that Valen is feeling.
The plot is refreshing as well. Though it has a few tropes common to fantasy, the story that Berg tells is not really similar to anything else that I've read, and Berg's cast of characters is a delightful bunch. Another great thing about it is the fact that Valen is forced to consider and accept that he might have been wrong, very wrong, about things and people that, prior to this, have defined his whole life. Valen learns and changes a lot during the course of the book, and unlike many other books, this learning curve does not feel forced or unnatural.
In the way of problems, however, Berg has a habit of... I don't quite know how to word this. Valen is a smart character, and he considers a wide range of possibilities about everything around him. But sometimes, Berg will have him initially suspect something very strongly and then, if it is... accurate she seems to just purge the thought from his mind (I guess so that the reader isn't immediately led to the correct conclusion or isn't left thinking "golly, isn't it bad that Valen always knows everything!") but it ends up feeling very fake sometimes and can actually detract from the spell that the story otherwise casts. (Not to mention that it ends up having the opposite effect, in that if Valen promptly forgets something that he felt strongly about, the reader can assume with a fair bit of certainty that that thing he forgot? Is true.)
Despite this, however, the book is an extremely good read. Berg is an extremely talented author and I will absolutely be seeking out more of her work, starting with the second part of this series and including probably everything else I can find by her.

I'd also like to add that while I was initially skeptical of the first duology that I read, I am really starting to enjoy them. They are neither forcibly compressed to fit one book, nor unnaturally expanded to make a trilogy (which I think was often done because of dear old Tolkien's influence on fantasy novels). I like duologies. So far, the ones I've read have been pretty great.

Sorry for any typos, I'm falling asleep here.
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February 2012

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