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Flesh and Spirit    by Carol Berg order for
Flesh and Spirit
by Carol Berg
Order:  USA  Can
Roc, 2007 (2007)
*   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Flesh and Spirit, the first in a fantasy duet by Carol Berg, reads more like literary fiction than epic fantasy. Its protagonist, Valen, has been running from his pureblood family for the last twelve years, making his way as a thief and a soldier. One encounter, however, leaves him lying in the mud with an arrow wound while his partner robs him of their most recent spoils and even the drug that Valen has become addicted to, to ease his pain.

Left with nothing but a pilfered book of maps that was rightfully his, he somehow makes his way to an abbey where the monks nurse him back to health. Sensing a good refuge for the winter, Valen agrees to join the brotherhood, but must hide two fact about himself: that he is a pureblood (purebloods may only join the order if given by their family) and that he cannot read (the brothers prize books above other earthly goods, so spend most of their days in study and transcribing works, but Valen suffers from an undiagnosed reading disorder).

Once Valen takes his vows, he learns that there is more to the abbey than a quite life of prayer and study. Hidden on the grounds is a room known as the lighthouse, for it is both magically illuminated and also holds all the works of enlightenment that need to be saved to prevent a dark age after the impending war between the three (possibly four) princes as they vie for their father's throne. The brothers also believe that the key to their works surviving the coming devastation lies in Valen's book of maps and his ability to unlock their secrets.

Unfortunately, one of the brothers' allies is a diviner who just happens to be Valen's sister. When she recognizes her brother, she immediately turns him in for deserting his family. By the time she realizes that what she did is detrimental to the monks' work, her father has already sold Valen to one of the princes. However, this is not the last Valen will see of the monks as their lighthouse has attracted the prince's attention.

Though Flesh and Spirit is a very well written story, I did not find it engaging. Valen does not become a likeable and empathetic character until the end, which makes it very hard to get into the book. Also, the words have a magical, lyrical quality to them, but the magic in the story itself is confusing and then non-existent for periods of time, making it easy to forget this is a fantasy. It reads more like literary or historical fiction, except the world is not real and important fantasy elements - such as magic and otherworldly creatures - pop up just enough to remind the reader that this is fantasy.

Flesh and Spirit leaves off just when Valen is beginning to learn how to use his gift and the workings of the parallel world of the Danae are starting to be understood, so it is possible that the conclusion to The Lighthouse Duet will have more of the fantasy elements that fans of the genre expect. Although I wanted to, I was just unable to get into Valen's world and story in Flesh and Spirit.

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