Carol Berg continues her Collegia Magica series with The Soul Mirror. The secret magical war being fought in the country of Sabria has left behind many victims: some dead, some maimed, some spiritually and psychologically damaged, and some intact in body and spirit but with reputation and honor destroyed. Anne de Vernase is one of these, the daughter of a traitor who not only betrayed country and king, but by betraying that king turned against his dearest and closest friend. Anne’s brother is held hostage by the king in an infamous prison known as the Spindle, and her strong, vibrant mother has catapulted into madness. Although Anne still lives on the estate she’s grown up on, it no longer belongs to the family, and a cordon of the king’s guards surrounds it at all times. Now Anne is informed that her younger sister Liannelle has died in a magical accident at the Camarilla, the magical college.
Before Anne can even begin to mourn or question her gifted sister’s death, her adversary, the King’s Prosecutor, Portier duPlais, arrives to demand her presence at court. Her home is about to be deeded to another family, and the king plans to marry her off. Anne feels anger close to hatred for Portier, even though, logically, she knows the case against her father was unassailable. The deepest part of Anne’s grief comes from the fact that her beloved father betrayed her as well.
At court, Anne finds herself reluctantly serving the queen. Queen Eugenie had also been accused of treason, but exonerated when Anne’s father was revealed as the magical traitor. Anne soon realizes that the plots against the queen have not ended, and at the center of them is the enigmatic, powerful and very dark mage Dante.
The book is told in first person from Anne’s point of view, and, as in The Spirit Lens, Berg creates a vivid, distinct voice. Anne, despite being beaten down by the events of the past four years, is intelligent and strong-willed. She realizes that her sister was trying to send her an important message before she died. Soon Anne is caught up, not only in the magical war that is happening in the capital city, Merona, but in endless court intrigues. Because of her name and her lineage, she has many enemies, but to her surprise she has allies as well. As Anne gathers information about her sister’s death, her father’s guilt begins to look less certain. But who can Anne trust?
This book explains some of the clues that were planted in the first book. Berg expands her explanation of the magical system, specifically the Blood Wars. We learn much more about the two magical families who were at the heart of that battle, the Gautiers and the Mondragons. Berg makes clear why raising the dead is considered an abomination, and why accomplishing it is so important for the Aspirant, as the shadowy figure behind the magical attacks is called.
Anne uses logic and intellect to solve the mysteries of the court, but she, who was always skeptical of magic, is forced to accept her sister’s power and the power of magic in general, for good or bad. She reluctantly comes to trust Portier and Eugenie’s foppish half-brother Ilario, who remains one of my favorites in this series.
It was a little too easy for me to figure out who the villain was, but Anne’s mysterious friend who speaks to her only mentally was a bit more of a surprise. I figured it out, but only shortly before the character did. More important than the” who” of this story (although that is vital) is the why, and the consequences of the magical actions. At the end of this book the risks go beyond an individual king and queen.
Berg creates a consequence of the Blood Wars that shows up in other fantasy novels, beginning with Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. It’s the idea that the afterlife has somehow been tainted by actions of humans (in Berg’s case, human sorcerers.) Souls are trapped and unable to progress because of the actions of living men and women. This is an interesting theme. I wonder why we are interested in this, and what we think it means.
By giving this book a completely different narrator with a very different view of past events, Berg avoids Second-Book Slump, although some of the sequences in the queen’s chambers seem overly long. This is a solid entry in the series, a compelling read with heroic characters, interesting magic, and turns of events that challenge our preconceptions. I recommend it.