Book Review: Flesh and Spirit

by Carol Berg.

Warning: This is the first half of a two-book series. If you’re going to buy one, just get both. I am so regretting my foolishness, because I just finished the first one, and now I don’t have the other one.

The story’s about a jerk who ends up getting left to die by an even bigger jerk, just outside a monastery. No, wait, says the second jerk — you’re going to die anyway, so let me take all your stuff as I go. But the monks rescue Valen (the first jerk), and he lives and decides that a monastery’s as good a place to wait out the winter and better than most, so he takes vows, planning to abandon them when the ground thaws out.

But it gets better. You can read the Amazon reviews if you’re curious, but it was actually pretty fun to find out what new problems this fool was going to drop next, so I won’t describe it. Let’s just say that every second of every scene, he had to choose between screwed and Jackie’s “Screwed is on the other side of the room, saying I’m glad I’m not you” shirt.

But the realm is at stake, and it would appear that Valen’s the only guy that can save it. At least, that’s what the back of the book said. Actually, it was more like, “The realm is screwed, unless it gets saved, in which case, it’s still screwed, unless it gets saved again, but wait! It’s still screwed, and, uh, yeah. Did I mention screwed?” And Valen? If there’s anybody who can save the realm, it’s not him, so they’re all really screwed.

The only really predictable thing about the book is that Valen pulls his act together. But it’s kind of like a murder mystery. The writer agrees to reveal the murderer, and everybody knows this. The fun is in how the writer reveals the murderer, not some artificial suspense over whether the murder will ever be discovered or not. So, admittedly, Valen pulls his act together, but the fun is in seeing how he does it.

Other than that, the only real weakness of this book (being the first half of the story) was probably intentional — the characters at the beginning of the book were pretty boring. They didn’t make any choices, didn’t get into conflicts with each other, didn’t stand out as individuals. Valen was strong enough to carry me through, until — ta daa! — the other characters had the chance to stand out a bit more. Here’s me, not telling you why.

Hm…it occurs to me that my tone here doesn’t indicate the tone of the book in the slightest. It really isn’t funny. Ironic, yes, but not funny. Dark, but not melodramatic. Full of detail, but not slow. Epic fantasy, but not so many !@#$%^& plotlines that you can’t follow along anymore…speaking of which, I haven’t read new epic fantasy that I liked (at least, still liked on the morning after) for a while. Yay!

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