The Spirit Lens (Collegia Magica, #1) By Carol Berg

4.5 stars - Another beautiful book by Carol Berg. I enjoyed her Lighthouse Duet immensely and was equally thrilled with this book. There are certainly similar themes – family, blood, betrayal, societal strictures and competing core values – but The Spirit Lens weaves them in a new and interesting way.

In this Renaissance-type fantasy we see the practitioners of magic and science opposed to one another creating civil unrest. Science is moving ahead and magic is clearly falling out of favor. However, there is at least one or more sorcerers seeking revive the darkest practices of magic and bring down society as a whole. It may sound cliché but the story is told in an original and engaging manner with strong characters driving it. Wonderful and unexpected plot & character twists – this seems to be Berg’s signature- and a satisfying conclusion that leads nicely into the next book.

I especially enjoy Berg’s prose. It is fluid and poetic without being verbose or overreaching. She directs the plot nicely. The book is well-paced – it may seem slow if you are more of a mystery-thriller reader but I think it’s appropriate for this book. I would classify this book as a fantasy / gothic romance / mystery – think Rebecca or The Thirteenth Tale but with magic and science ;-)

FYI I'm only withholding that last 1/2 star because I think some of the characters developed too abruptly. I felt the character development in Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone was better.
464 I kept flipping between liking this a lot and being quite involved in the events, and being rather bored with the lot of them. There were some nice twists, and I liked the tension between the world's science and its magic, but the characters weren't close to being my favourites. I will read/listen to the second at least, because Anne seems likely to be a more interesting POV character. 464 Portier de Savin Duplais, the 14th or 15th cousin of the King is tasked to investigate an attempted murder of the King by ambush, where a secret telescope is left behind at the murder scene by the killer, who bears evidence that he was a mule. A mule is a person who is bespelled by a magician. The King requires that Portier use the services of Ilaro de Sylvae, the bastard brother of the Queen, who acts like a flamboyant fop and fool. The King believes that Ilaro will open doors to the Queen's court. The Queen, who employs the services of two magicians, is suspected by the populous of being involved in the attempted murder. The King also reveals that a close friend and advisor of his has disappeared as well.

Portier enlists the services of Dante, a renowned magician, who is not affiliated with the dominant College Magica, and he joins the Queens court under cover.

Berg stylistic novel shows how Portier with the aid of his fellow agents confide shrewdly investigate the Queen's magical advisors and other plotters and figures out who is involved in the plot. At the same time, Portier and Ilaro are revealed as much more than they seem, and the Magician Dante is revealed as a powerful magician.

There is a lot of intrigue and the plot is engrossing.

This is a dense novel and there are no short pages or short chapters ala James Patterson, so it reads a lot longer than its 465 trade pages.

Its a winner. 464 This was a weird detective fantasy book. I've hardly ever read anything of the kind, if at all. It was probably closer to The Name of the Rose than to any of the fantasy books I've read. There were several interesting characters, including the main POV character and his two sidekicks as well as some secondary ones. The story was not the most exciting one and I'd have been very happy if the ending hadn't fizzled out. It was still a worthy read.

I can't decide whether this is a 3 or a 3.5 star read so I'm going for the lower rating. 464 A failed magic student turned meek librarian, a crude, rude magician turned outcast and hermit, and a foolish fop become unlikely allies in attempting to uncover vile practices and unspeakable necromancy aimed at King and Crown in this first book of the Collegia Magica. All have murky issues in their pasts, and none of them are what they seem. NOTHING is what it seems in this fantasy of illusion. Set in a world just beginning to discover the physical sciences and still feeling the scars from a history of savage sorcerous wars, this taut adventure twists and turns and teases the reader. The author shows impressive skills at revealing information while still concealing her mysterious villains. Our heroes stumble in and out of danger, distrusting one another, fearing for their own lives and the security of their kingdom. This is a GOOD one and I can't wait to read the next one in this series. 464


Like a rocky coast during a hurricane, I was pummeled by similes in every paragraph. They sprung up like unwanted daisies in my yard. They teemed like vermin. They swarmed like bees. They were like ants at a picnic, knots in a discount lumber pile, seagulls at a bait shack , and snakes in that Indiana Jones movie.

Also? This book is as interesting as watching paint dry. And that paint is beige. 464 I found this book to be too slow paced, the main character doubted himself thoughout which began to grate on me over time, and as a librarian, I was very irritated with the treatment of my profession. Aside from that, it was interesting and the world-building was clear and good. I wouldn't reread it, but I wouldn't warn people not to buy it.

My main problem with the book: librarianship is often used in fiction as shorthand for a personality type (cautious and timid), or as an example of a situation the main character needs to break free from (oh, dear, it just must be so boring!). Both of these were used here. It's very frusterating because although I'm the first to admit that this job isn't for everyone, it's certainly not for the cautious and timid - you need to interact with people all day long, and have the confidence to help people find information that's very important to them. And it's a great job! Why would anyone feel stifled when they're surrounded by all the world's knowledge, and they get to help organize it, and help others find it?

I was pleased to see that research played a pretty big role in this fantasy/mystery, but overall, this book was a disappointment. 464 4 Stars

This was a 3 star book at times and 5 stars at other times. I had a difficult time with this one as I found myself frequently putting it down, skipping full sentences and paragraphs, and my mind was often wandering. Yes, this could have been my fault and a reread may be in the future for this one, but I really believe that there was something missing in this story that kept it from being better. I really enjoyed the main characters, Portier, Ilario, and the angry mage Dante. There were moments of greatness in this story and the magic system is fascinating and exciting.

I think that the problems I had in this book center around me needing more from it. It read to me as a second novel would, it seems to me that we should have know more about Portier, more about the world, the king, and even the magic within. Hmmm, maybe I am wrong but a prequel would definitely help.

I recommend this novel as it does set up for more to come. Carol Berg writes with great flare and her prose is top notch. The Spirit Lens started out reminding me of Jonathan Strange and Dr Norell but the more I read the more I felt that it shared similarities to that of many great politically charged Melanie Rawn fantasy novels. I will surely read more from Carol Berg, as should all readers that love well written fantasy.

One year later and a fast reread, much of my feelings remain the same. This is an extremely well written novel, that is much more a mystery of the moment then it is an epic book one of a fantasy series. I loved the characters in it and feel that Berg is exceptional at making them seem real. I am like most men in that I am normally drawn to action oriented, take no holds, and downright bad ass heroes and villains. This book is not that at all, although clearly Dante fits the bill. This is a book about subtleties. It is penned with a historical fiction type feel to it, a Victorian Romance. I just felt that this book would have been so much the better if Berg gave us more back-story on our heroes and our villains. The development of this book is extremely focused on the plot itself, never taking any side trips to meander and expand elsewhere.

I loved the magic in this book. The way that Dante explained it to Portier gave it a sense of realism and imagination:

“A particle can be glamoured—disguised with light to fool the eye—but the other senses would reveal its unchanged state. Or the particle, as any other object, can be used as a receptacle, linked to the spell so the enchantment can be transported. But magic itself is ephemera. Dust is naught but dust. Stone is stone. A thistle is a thistle. The Pantokrator has rendered nature immutable.”

The darker form of magic, the sorcery is well thought out even if we have seen it before. I love the dark implications of blood magic and mules.

“It was an unfortunate fact that the actual blood of someone like me could so dramatically enhance another sorcerer’s spellmaking, when it could not provide me enough power to work magic of my own. Transference, the direct infusion of magical blood into a sorcerer’s veins, had been practiced since the awakening of magic. A few practitioners bled themselves, distilled the product, and reinfused their own strengthened ichor. But as this led determinedly to self-destruction, most incidents of transference involved an unwilling victim, leeched to provide magical sustenance for the unscrupulous…”

I am a huge fan of Carol Berg and look forward to reading more in this series as well as her older works. After finishing this reread, I told my wife how much I thought that she, as a historical fiction junkie would love this book.

464 This was not your typical fantasy read. It was more of a mystery/detective story set in a high magic fantasy world that was a bit reminiscent of Renaissance France.

Portier de Savin-Duplais, a failed student of magic and distant cousin to the king, is called upon by his royal cousin to covertly investigate a failed plot to assassinate the king and the disappearance of the previous investigator, the kings best friend Michel. He was assisted by court fop Ilario and the mysterious and short tempered mage Dante.

The plot was slow paced, but still interesting enough to hold my attention. The characters were flawed but interesting and/or likable. The story was full of intrigue and the mystery lasted until the final stages. To be honest some of it was not even solved!

The fascinating thing about this fantasy world of Berg's was that magic was in decline and many, including the king, favored the new wave of scientific advancements being made.

I'm a fan of Berg's books, she is a dependable author, but this was not one of her more exciting ones. Despite that I still enjoyed reading it and will definitely be reading the sequels.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

Audio Note: I was not a big fan of David DeVries. He was well spoken and his character voices were fine, but unfortunately he did not seem to have any talent for performing the story! That said, I've certainly heard a lot worse in my time.

464 I bought this one on its release day (Jan 5th) with high hopes, but though it intrigued me, i felt that it was too dependent on its quirky humor and light gags for its enjoyment so I kept putting it down; however I still planned to decide soon either to immerse into it or fast read and drop and after a while the novel drops its lighter pretense, picks up considerably and it gets extremely good; though fully concluding its main thread, it sets up a very, very interesting sequel

A solid A and highly recommended, keep going since after 100 pages or so it will start gripping you and then from about 1/2 in it will be not possible to put it down


INTRODUCTION: I have browsed several of Ms. Berg' novels before and I actually started on Flesh and Spirit at some point and I plan to finish it sooner rather than later, but they never had that read me now quality to get into them seriously when I have a reading pile of several hundred books leaving aside the new ones that are released all the time.

The main reason for the above was that while the writing style was intriguing, the subjects of all the books I browsed by the author were of moderate interest at best for me. However The Spirit Lens had a very intriguing blurb, so I decided to include it in my 2010 Anticipated List ; out of 90+ books, it was the only one from an established author I have not read before.

I bought the book on its release day in early January and after several false starts, when I kept putting The Spirit Lens down and reading something else though advancing a little bit each time, I started truly getting into the novel at about the 150th page and from then on it was a non-stop ride to a superb ending that left my appetite whetted for the next installment.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: The Spirit Lens stands at about 450 pages divided in 34 chronological chapters headed by their date and it ends with an epilogue. The novel is a first person narration by early 30's Portier de Savin-Duplais, a failed magician from an outside line of a powerful noble family, so distant cousin to the current king Philippe de Savin-Jurnia of Sabria. Student at the famous countryside Collegia Magica of Seravain, Portier has been disabused of any hopes for real magical ability by age 16, but through the intercession of his mentor, family friend and lead magician of the Camarilla Magica, Kajetan, Portier stayed on as archivist for some 16 years now until he is secretly summoned to investigate an assassination attempt against the king that may involve magicians, powerful Court members and even the estranged and seemingly unworldly Queen Eugenie herself.

Partly a mystery, partly an exploration of a somewhat familiar but also quite different society on the verge of an age of reason, partly the beginning of an epic as far as the big picture goes, The Spirit Lens is packed with events and it has many twists and turns, of which some are quite unpredictable and made me appreciate it quite a lot at the end.

The style takes a while to get adjusted to since the novel starts on a very light note despite its grim underlying events, Portier being a very self-deprecating and wry narrator, while his two companions in the investigation, Chevalier Ilario and sorcerer Dante start as the overdone cliches of fop and brilliant but moody outsider sorcerer.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sabria is a pseudo-Renaissance kingdom with mostly French/Italian naming conventions that is poised to enter an Age of Reason under the leadership of King Philippe. Wracked by the terrible Blood Wars some hundred years ago, the nobility and magicians of Sabria formed a compact in which all study and use of magic comes under the aegis of the Camarilla Magica under strict rules and regulations. As magical ability seems to be diminishing among the lines of Sabria' sorcerers, many people including the king himself consider it no more than a stage trick at best or con game at worst and Philippe is promoting the study of science and the advancement of technology.
However not all is rosy since Philippe though now standing on the throne for a good number of years is an outsider king, being only a distant heir of the previous king who died childless; his high-nobility wife Queen Eugenie was the bride of the former king too, with Philippe marrying her to consolidate his fragile hold on power. Queen Eugenie, while somewhat otherworldly - some saying she became unbalanced when her and Philippe's only son died - is a strong believer in magic and has two powerful sorcerers as her own Camarilla.

When an assassination was attempted against Philippe involving the worst kind of blood magic and with the scant evidence pointing to the Queen's court, if not the Queen herself, Philippe put his most trusted councilor, right hand man and childhood friend that he raised to the highest estates from a commoner birth, Michel de Vernase, Conte Ruggiere to investigate. However after a promising beginning, Michel has disappeared, Philippe is starting to fear the worst about his friend and time may be running out since soon there will be a symbolic anniversary where the mysterious forces of the dark may attack again and finish the job this time.

Desperate and not knowing whom else to trust, the king summons Portier in secret to investigate and prevent the feared next attack, though he saddles him with Ilario, the half-brother of Queen Eugenie and reputed half-wit and fop at the court as a representative of the Queen's party, while for magical help Portier goes to Dante, the only known outsider sorcerer who got licensed by the Camarilla as the law requires but then retired to the countryside.

And from here the fun starts and we follow Portier trying to get a grip on events, manage his two companions as well as keeping a low profile as a secretary to one or the other.

There were several reasons that I kept reading even if it took me a while to get used with the style. The naming conventions worked extremely well for me and while seemingly a minor point, many recent fantasies I tried and were ok but not gripping to start with, lost me badly on that and off they went to a fast read and forget or an outright drop.

While the world of Spirit Lens is only slowly unfolding, I never lost the suspension of disbelief necessary to immerse in it. Whenever magicians are involved and especially in the context of a cultural fight for supremacy between magic and science/reason, I am always asking why the magicians are not in charge since as all human history teaches any competitive advantage (big warriors, literate priesthood, divine right...) is leveraged into domination and entrenched in societal structures and anyone who can demonstrably do magic automatically has such an advantage. Various books answer this in various ways, some more credible for me, some less, but here the whole setup with the Camarilla and the sorcerers slowly losing magical power as a class fits very well with my worldview.

After I got into the style of the novel and its happenings started hooking me, its main attraction were the twists and turns and the characters about whom slowly we start having quite different impressions than at the start. Revelations from the past coupled to traits that come at fore only after a while mean that what we believe at the beginning will be quite changed by the end. This unpredictability raised Spirit Lens most in my estimation since in so many genre books the characters are marked: the destined one, the sidekick, the love interest, the villain, the noble but doomed one, while here there is much more subtlety and even at the end when we seemingly know a lot more, there is a lot of uncertainty at least with regard to the big picture.

And of course there is a lot of action, daring escapes, plots and counter plots so The Spirit Lens does not lag at all once it gets going, while its main thread is wrapped up so there is completion before the next installment. Highly recommended and a solid A, I will give it a re-read at some point later and may even raise my estimation of it now that I am comfortable with its style.

In a kingdom on the verge of a grand renaissance, where natural science has supplanted failing sorcery, someone aims to revive a savage rivalry...

For Portier de Savin-Duplais, failed student of magic, sorcery's decline into ambiguity and cheap illusion is but a culmination of life's bitter disappointments. Reduced to tending the library at Sabria's last collegia magica, he fights off despair with scholarship. But when the king of Sabria charges him to investigate an attempted murder that has disturbing magical resonances, Portier believes his dreams of a greater destiny might at last be fulfilled.

As the king's new agente confide, Portier - much to his dismay - is partnered with the popinjay Ilario de Sylvae, the laughingstock of Sabria's court. Then the need to infiltrate a magical cabal leads Portier to Dante, a brooding, brilliant young sorcerer whose heretical ideas and penchant for violence threaten to expose the investigation before it's begun. But in an ever-shifting landscape of murders, betrayals, old secrets, and unholy sorcery, the three agentes will be forced to test the boundaries of magic, nature, and the divine... The Spirit Lens (Collegia Magica, #1)

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