Review: The Soul Mirror

Posted: May 18, 2011 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Carol Berg, Fantasy

Magic is not what it used to be. Now it’s less potent. It’s less reliable. Fewer people can use it. As a result science has gained popularity and the people of Sabria are experiencing a Renaissance.

But the Aspirant wants to change all that—and he will resort to murder to get what he wants.

The story began in Carol Berg‘s THE SPIRIT LENS (Amazon), a fantasy whodunit told from the viewpoint of Portier, cousin to the king, and charged with finding the source of a failed assassination plot. It unravels into a mystery beyond a simple murder attempt and into full-blown conspiracy, with the king’s bosom friend Michael de Vernase as the suspected instigator.

In the sequel, THE SOUL MIRROR (Amazon), it’s four years later and the plot thickens. The PoV switches to Anne de Vernase, the 22-year-old daughter of the suspected traitor, who much must move to Merona and the queen’s court because her father’s lands are to be given to another. Add to that her brother’s imprisonment, a mother gone insane, her sister dead from spellwork gone awry (or is the cause more sinister…?), and now at court they want to marry her off. Anne can’t believe her life could get any worse—except that it’s the hated Portier, the very man who named her father as traitor, who brings her to Merona and watches over her every step.

At first, like everyone else, Anne believes her father is the Aspirant. But as she fumbles her way through the queen’s court while the king is away, she gathers proof that perhaps her father is innocent. However, that begs the question: who is the Aspirant and what is he trying to accomplish? Is it the despicable sorcerer Dante, who performs necromancy on the queen’s behalf? Is it the arrogant headmaster of the Collegia Magica? She may have to turn to the sycophantic Portier for help, afterall, in order to clear her father’s good name.

The books are at heart mysteries, so as a result the plot and set-up are patterned after that genre. Berg blends magic into the mystery: How does the magic work? Why has it changed since the Blood Wars? What of this ‘new’ magic that threatens the very laws of nature? Why is the Aspirant using illegal blood magic to fuel his work? While some questions are answered in THE SPIRIT LENS (or so we think…), others continue into THE SOUL MIRROR, building on what has gone before, unraveling layer by layer the conspiracy in fascinating detail.

Anne is rational and intelligent, but lacks the refinements that would make her comfortable at court—even if her family had still been in the king’s good graces. But she’s still the goddaughter to the king with a dowry of her own, and so is brought to court to be a maid of honor for the queen. She’s determined, and despite her introverted nature, is willing to do difficult things in order to see her plans through. Despite Anne being a much different voice from Portier’s in the first book, the tone is consistent and pitch perfect for the story. The intelligently formal prose adds flavor to the era, is consistent across the books, and makes for lovely reading, reminiscent of Dickens or Austen.

In THE SOUL MIRROR magic is not what it used to be and now science is experiencing a Renaissance.But the Aspirant wants to change all that.

Portier, Dante, and the queen’s brother Illario all continue to be principle characters, continuing their roles from THE SPIRIT LENS. As the PoV character of the first book, Portier was a little difficult to figure for most of the book, but I enjoyed seeing him, as well as others, from Anne’s viewpoint in THE SOUL MIRROR, which only made them more layered. Beyond these, there is a large and varied cast, from maidservant to the king himself. Sometimes all the names and places get confusing, there’s a lot to remember. Fortunately, the characters are interesting enough to move the story along despite the bumps along the way.

The pace is steady and deliberate. While there are important events that happen, there is a lot of thinking going on as Anne attempts to unravel the mystery of her father’s disappearance and the Aspirant’s nefarious plans. Having all these details and intrigues to sort out takes time and may bore readers who prefer faster-paced excitement. Anne’s narrative also suffers from the occasional leap in logic as she makes connections that I couldn’t follow, but were necessary to the plot. Fortunately, all the information Anne gathers leads her to the solution and the exciting climax. But I don’t dare spoil it for you. See if you can figure it out for yourself.

Can you read THE SOUL MIRROR without having read THE SPIRIT LENS? Probably not. You’ll lose your way with the story and names, and the plot won’t have the same impact. Should you bother reading the first in order to read the second? As well as prepare for the third, THE DAEMON PRISM (Amazon) coming out in 2012? Absolutely.

  • Recommended Age: 16+ more for reading level than content
  • Language: None
  • Violence: Although infrequent, it can be graphic
  • Sex: Referenced only

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