Sunday, May 29, 2011

THOUGHTS on: Carol Berg's "The Soul Mirror"

Title: "The Soul Mirror"
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica Series 002
(Previous in series: "The Spirit Lens")
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
(Review written April 3rd, 2011)
I loved "The Soul Mirror" - Anne de Vernase is a fantastic heroine. Four years before the "The Soul Mirror" begins, Anne's world fell apart; her beloved father is charged with treason (Anne's own testimony damning him), her brother is taken to be a hostage while her father is at large, and her mother's mind has broken and twisted into madness.
Since these events (which unfolded in "The Spirit Lens"), Anne has been struggling with the financial burden of keeping her home afloat for her captive brother and sister, who is away at the College Seravain. Things do not become easier for her: "The Soul Mirror" opens with Anne learning that her 17-year old sister, Lianelle, has died in a horrific explosion. And worse, Lianelle's suspicious death is being brushed away as a foolish accident and no one at the College Seravain will answer Anne's questions.
When she Anne returns home, Portier de Savarin Duplais, the Royal Accuser who mercilessly collected evidence to convict her father four years before, awaits with the news that Anne has been summoned to court. She is to become part of Queen Eugenie household, as a maid of honour, in the hopes that she may make an honourable alliance. As anyone in her position would be, Anne is wary and untrusting. What purpose could she, the single remaining able-bodied member of the Vernase family, serve at the court of the man her father betrayed? Certainly no man would consider marriage to the daughter of a traitor a beneficial alliance. At court, Anne fears for her life, and soundness of mind.
Although Anne is afraid and suspicious of those around her, she is not cold. Berg shows the reader Anne's vulnerability: her pain at being helpless and unable to do anything for her sister, mother and brother, terrible victims of circumstance. And despite Anne's vulnerability, she is not at all a weak heroine. She is also angry on behalf of her victimized family, furious that their victimization has been covered up under the pretty guise of courtly politeness and bureaucracy, or brutal magic. And Anne shows that she is willing to face her substantial fears in order to stand up for the truth.
One thing I particularly enjoyed in "The Soul Mirror" is how differing viewpoints/perceptions were put forward, or kept hidden. We see Anne's perception of Portier. Because the reader knows that Portier is honourable from previous acquaintance in "The Spirit Lens", we are aware that Anne's perception is subjective, and can view Portier's demeanour and actions through Anne's eyes, and see her interpretations, even while calculating our own interpretations of Portier's actions. However, there is also the aspect of how Anne perceives her own situation and actions. Because Anne's voice is so strongly written, her motivations always seemed so honest and clear that I did not consider at all how her actions and circumstances might appear to others. So when, near the end of the book, we are given a glimpse as to how vastly different her actions and situation appeared to others not privy to her state of knowledge and motivations, it was as revelatory for me, as the reader, as it was for Anne.
I love reading romance, and while the romance in "The Spirit Lens" didn't do much for me, I very much enjoyed the gentle sort of romance that developed in "The Soul Mirror." I was surprised by it, but after the surprise passed, the pairing of the characters seemed obvious to me.
My subjective rating:
Prose: A (not as much to my taste as Sharon Shinn or Patricia A. Mckillip, but pretty gorgeous)
Plot: A (twists!)
Characters: A+
World-building: B-
X-factor: A
Oh, and the cover art for both "The Spirit Lens" and "The Soul Mirror" is gorgeous. In fact, I practically decided I would read these based solely on the beautiful cover art.

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