Review: Flesh and Spirit

Posted: October 5, 2009 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Carol Berg, Fantasy

It was in 2008 that Carol Berg‘s FLESH AND SPIRIT (Amazon) was published, so it has had some shelf time, like a few other books we have reviewed. We have received quite a large number of emails requesting a review of this book — and it’s sequel BREATH AND BONE (Amazon) — and since we do aim to please, here it is.

Anyone who has read Carol Berg before, knows that she is pretty dang good at what she does, and has written some great books. So we picked up this first half of the series without much hesitation, and cracked it open.

From the beginning, we learn our protagonist isn’t much a hero, in fact he is kind of an antagonistic jerkface that has Numero Uno as his main concern. Oh also, he is a drug-addicted magic-user, and of course comes from a long line of important people. He is also prophesied to die “in water and blood and ice”. Yeah, Valen (the main character) has some cool stuff going on.

Not only does Valen have enough conflict to keep him interesting, but the plot manages to capture our attention quite well. We love political strife in the novels we read, almost more than anything, (yes, even including Steve’s penchant for violence in books) and Carol delivers it here. Around Valen, there is a civil war going on between three men who believe they are the best heir to the dead king.

There is a lot of “yay!” in this book from what he have mentioned above, however the book fails in one huge aspect. It starts promising, with Valen being robbed by his buddy and left, wounded, to endure the withdrawals of his addiction before he dies. He, by the grace only a fantasy author (or Dan Brown of course… ugh…) could muster, manages to live thanks to a group of monks at a monastery.

So much of the content of this book is centered on the ensuing interactions Valen has with the monks. The members of the monastery and Valen both have their own secrets and they are slowly revealed… very slowly…

FLESH AND SPIRIT isn't our usual action-oriented type novel, but Carol Berg definitely knows how to write; you'll definitely need to read the sequel.

This is where both Berg’s strong point and the book’s weak point come into play. The writing is incredible. Honestly her writing is vivid, descriptive, and evocative, but without being excessively verbose or obtuse. (See what we did there?) She has real grasp on the both the subtle surgical, and the overt broadsword powers of the English language and how to use it in writing. We rarely get this impressed with a writer in this category, because we feel a certain mastery is requisite to write. Berg exceeded our expectations. She manages to make the most boring content… seem OK.

Now the weak point. The pacing is ungodly. Horrific. Detestable. Hair-Raising. We could go on. Other than the opening scene, absolutely nothing happens for the first 200-250 pages. The novel is only 488 pages. Now, when we say nothing… of course we don’t really mean nothing. There are subtle hints and snippets of information about something bigger going on, news about the civil war, Valen’s contention with his new lifestyle as a monk. This first (more than) half of the book is the excruciating minutiae of monastic life. The only reason we could summon the willpower to turn each page was because of Berg’s writing.

In answer to the question we know you’re asking. Yes. The pacing does pick up and literally throws its readers into a very dismal and dark adventure. It quickly gets very interesting. But in all honesty, it happens too late, and is ultimately too little. With the ending, very little is resolved and we realized we read a 488 page exposition on what the second book would be. This was at once both very shocking and very irritating. There is a lot (nearly everything) left open, mysteries unsolved (cue that creepy music that scared us all as kids when our grandparents would watch that show… gah!), and action imminent.

Final say? If you are going to brave this first book, make absolutely sure you read the second book so you can at least have some closure. For aspiring writers this is a perfect book in every way. It shows both to do, and what not to do. For your average sit-down-for-a-few readers, this is not the way to go. We read both books, cover to cover, and didn’t quite feel cheated, but we didn’t get what we wanted or were hoping for. Also, Steve despised the cover art. Yes, he judges.

  • Recommended Age: 17+. It gets a bit dark, but mainly the age is we doubt anyone younger will be capable of slogging through.
  • Language: Nothing terribly offensive. Standard fantasy-fare.
  • Violence: A bit here and there. Remember how nothing happens for most of the book?
  • Sex: Not that we can remember

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