by Carol Berg Book : Fiction
Promising New Series Continues   (2011-03-17)
Berg, Carol ~ Soul Mirror ~ ROC, 2011 ~ 44 chapters, ~ 515 pages ~ Audience: adults, teens ~ Rating: Good.
“Here we are, Damoselle de Vernase.” My escort drew aside the overhanging pine branches so I could better view the disturbed ground.”
This is the second novel in the Collegia Magica series. The first was The Spirit Lens. Berg has also written the Lighthouse Series, the Bridge of D’Arnath series and the Rai-Kirah Series.
The setting is late medieval or perhaps Renaissance. Technology is limited to bows/arrows/knives/swords and similar. The story takes place at His Majesty’s Court at Merona where Anne de Vernase is summoned to be one of the Queen’s ladies. Her home and all properties except for a few personal items are to go to others.
Her father, once diplomat and close advisor to the King has been convinced of treason, partially because of Anne’s testimony. He was also seen to be involved in most foul magic. Anne’s fate appears to be a short time in the capital before she is married off to a minor and unattractive lord.
Magical objects exist and there is a college to train/educate magicians of both sexes. In fact, her sister Lianelle, while at the Collegia Magica, has recently died in some kind of magical explosion. Anne [Ani], however, appears to have no magical ability and has little interest or belief in magic. There are few genuinely powerful magicians, but one is at Court where he works for the Queen.
While we learn much about how the court is run and the details surrounding the Queen’s ladies, there is little mention of government or the economy. Culture seems to be quasi-French.
We learn about Ani’s father only through her memories and comments. She does believe that he did terrible things and was rightfully convicted. In particular, she has a very strong negative attitude toward magic. This belief will be severely tested as the story moves forward.
At the court, Ani encounters hostility and suspicion because of her father’s deeds and reputation. She also receives a letter sent from her sister just before she died. The letter includes some magical artifacts that will play an important role as the plot further develops.
Someone wants to slay the Queen who is bed-ridden and not well in her head even though attended by physician and the master magician. The King of Sabria is far away attending to military and other matters. The former Queen, now the Dowager Queen, continues to meddle in politics and other matters.
The capital city itself is beset by strange behavior. Walls collapse, gangs of large rats patrol the streets, and odd events happen now and then as if the city itself was under magical attack.
Ani finds herself alone, with no one that she can really trust, in a difficult and dangerous environment. Using her sister’s letter and those few magical items [potion, ring, soul mirrors], she must protect herself and try to discover who she can trust and what she can do to survive.
The plot has two three elements:  Ani’s self-discovery and survival in a hostile environment,  protection of the failing Queen and  discovery of a terrible magical plot that could destroy the known world.
1. Ani is the primary character. She is strong, independent, and resourceful. However, she is without friends and placed in a hostile environment. As strange events happen, she decides that she will do whatever is needed to protect the Queen and herself.
2. Dante is the dark and distant master magician who serves, even dominates, the Queen. His role becomes even more important when the Queen becomes ill. Ani sees him as her most likely enemy.
3. Ambrose is An’s brother. He has been held in frightening solitary confinement for some time and has changed dramatically. He plays a minor role here, but an important one.
4. Eugenie is the Queen. She has been unable to conceive an heir and her position in the kingdom is threatened because of that. Eugenie has some mental health problems.
5. Duplais is in charge of the Queen’s household. He was also the primary prosecutor in the trial of Ani’s father. She does not trust him and he seems to feel the same way about her. He brought her to Court and is watching her carefully.
6. An unknown person, perhaps a male, can speak to Ani through her mind and she can respond. This person helps to explain that, in fact, she does have unusual magical abilities.
This is a normal trade paper edition. Print and font are are reasonable and reading is not a problem. See through and paper are better than average. Cover art by Gordon Crabb shows Ani, serious and threatened.
Berg has a solid reputation for romantic fantasy with strong, believable characters and well-developed settings.
Soul Mirror [magical artifact] is an excellent story with appeal for adults as well as teens. While a strong romantic relationship develops at the end, it is not a physical one. Settings are well done with details that convince and make the story more believable. Main, and secondary, characters are nicely developed. Relationships, especially between main characters, are appropriate for the story and convincing. The setting, which plays an important role, is well described and easily visualized.
The magical element has some surprising twists and certainly adds a dark element. Berg does a good job of providing history and particulars for magic, but more would interest this reader. Those who have read the first volume in the series would be more familiar with the magic.
Action is limited to a few incidents. This is primarily a story of one person’s quest to understand herself and magic. There is little violence. The environment is threatening and often bleak.
The series is a worthy addition for adult and young adult fantasy collections. Most libraries would hold at least some of Berg’s other works.
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