Series: THE SANCTUARY DUET
Plot Type: High Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Ever since the Order of the Equites Cineré stole his memory, his name, and his heart, thinking about the past makes Greenshank’s head ache. After two years of rigorous training, he is almost ready to embrace the mission of the Order—to use selfless magic to heal the troubles of Navronne. But on his first assignment alone, the past comes racing back, threatening to drown him in conspiracy, grief, and murder.
> The Knight Marshall, the leader of the Order.
> The Knight Archivist, the record-keeper and guardian of the relicts—the spelled stone fragments that hold the memories of the members of the Order until they are either restored or destroyed, depending on each person's position in the Order and the choices he makes.
> The Knight Defender, the Order's final bastion. He has more magical power than any other in the Order.
Like much fantasy fiction, this world has a Medieval feel to it, with its monarchical government, feudal social structure, primitive living conditions (especially for the poor), sword fighting, public whippings and hangings, and clothing styles that reflect that period. The series is set in the city of Palinur in the kingdom of Navronne, which is in the midst of a bloody war of succession between a pair of princely brothers: Perryn, presumptive heir to the throne, and Bayard, Perryn's contentious brother who hasn't yet given up the fight.
In this mythology, a pureblood is basically a mage or a sorcerer—a magic user. "Pureblood sorcerers held the power of magic, the greatest gift of the gods to a troubled world, and they sacrificed a great deal to preserve, nurture, and share that gift. Not even Karish monks lived with more study, rules, and restrictions. Purebloods bound themselves and their grown children into strict service on the assurance that they would be provided the means to maintain the dignity of our calling and to withstand such travails as war and famine." (Dust and Light, p. 13) People with no magical talent are called ordinaries.
The series hero is Lucian de Remeni-Masson, eldest son of a noble family of purebloods. Lucian was born with the rare condition of dual bents, which means that he has two different magical talents—or bents: "Though I showed a deft hand at portraiture, inherited from my Masson mother, my preference had ever been for my Remeni father's bloodline magic…history....Unfortunately, experience warned that two strong bents led inevitably to madness, and the Registry had long insisted that the lesser one be excised. Yet my talents had both manifested as quite robust." (Dust and Light, p. 18) Unfortunately, after a youthful indiscretion involving a female ordinary, Lucian's grandfather punishes him by magically removing his history bent. As the series opens, Lucian is dealing with the grief of losing almost his entire family to a fire set by the Harrowers, a radical and violent religious sect that wants all purebloods dead. Now, Lucian's only living relative is his younger sister, Juli, and Lucian is now the the head of the family.
Navronnian society—particularly among the purebloods—runs according to a strict set of rules and traditions. For example, purebloods always wear a half-mask and a special type of cloak to make them instantly recognizable. Ordinaries are forbidden to speak to or touch a pureblood, except on command. When purebloods are out and about in the city, the law forbids anyone from robbing them or harming them in any way.
All purebloods are under the control of the Registry, which contracts their services according to their particular bents and pays them a comfortable income and a secure social status. Unfortunately, as we soon learn, the Registry is corrupt—as is frequently the case with ruling bodies in paranormal fiction of all kinds.
Two other cultural groups play a part in the series: the Danae and the Cicerons. The Danae appear to be similar to the Fae—otherworldly and beautiful, appearing and disappearing out of thin air. One of the Danae who appears to Lucian reminds him of his lost love, Morgan, but that story line is touched on only briefly and ambiguously in the first book. Here is Lucian's description of the Cicerons: "Skin as dusky as purebloods, bedecked with arm bracelets, earrings, and necklaces of false gold, they bred thieves, smugglers, fortune-tellers, and artists at picking pockets, knife juggling, and sleight of hand. Their knives found human targets, as well, especially any who crossed them." (Dust and Light, p. 22) The Cicerons live in the hirudo, a deep gully that borders the graveyard on the edge of the city.
The cast of characters includes the following Curators of the Registry, each of whom plays a role in Lucian's troubles. Some want him killed; some want him imprisoned; and some want to force him to run away. And no one will tell him why they all seem to fear and hate him so much.
> First Curator, Gramphier: The highest ranking official of the Registry and longtime friend of Lucian's grandfather.
> First Register Damon: Known for his ruthlessness and loyalty to those who earn it.
> Second Register, Pons-Laterus: She openly despises Lucian for breaking the rules and consorting with an ordinary.
> Overseer of Contracts, Guilian de Albin: A wealthy traditionalist who has always looked down upon Lucian.
> Curator Scrutari-Consil: Petulant and annoying; condescending and arrogant.
> Master of Archives, Pluvius: Lowest in rank, he has been Lucian's mentor ever since Lucian began working at the Registry.All of the curators treat Lucian badly, but some may have sympathetic reasons (in the long term) behind their actions. Lucian spends much of book 1 trying to figure out if he can trust any of them.
NOVEL 1: Dust and Light
Bastien's workspace is housed in the Necropolis, literally a city of the dead. Here is the moment that Lucian and Bastien first meet: "Winter daylight streamed through the arches to either side of the colonnade, illuminating a thickset man in a heavy wool shirt, leather tunic, and thigh-length boots. He stood square in our path, fists on hips and scowling at us from amid a tangle of sand-colored hair. Fog or steam or smoke, bearing a stench so foul as to leave me unwilling to take another breath, wreathed him as if he were some gatzi lord from Magrog's netherworld. 'You're late.' His voice rumbled the stones." (p. 28) Bastien is a pragmatic, rough Master who at first views Lucian as a "pompous pureblood twit who believes he's been ill-used because he's got to smell shite." (p. 77) Eventually, though, they learn to trust one another and become more like partners than Master and servant.
On Lucian's first day of work, the body of a young girl is found on the edge of the Cicerons' hirudo. When Lucian draws her portrait, he blacks out momentarily, only to discover on awakening that he has drawn the child in royal garb. Apparently, Lucian has developed the ability to look deeply into a person's life and soul as he is drawing the portrait—to see events and objects that he shouldn't be able to see. In other words, his bent for history (which manifests as psychometry) has revived and has combined with his bent for portraiture—an unprecedented event that will surely get him put in prison if the Registry learns about it. Lucian surmises "that reaching for the life behind death's mask had roused some fading ember of my second bent." (p. 79) Another anomaly that occurs during his drawing of the child's portrait is described here by Bastien: "You—your whole self—faded, blurred, and then sharpened up again, over and over, as if you were only partly here, partly elsewhere." (p. 54) Obviously, this phenomenon is related to Lucian's blackouts as he drew the portrait. Two of the novel's primary story lines, then, are Lucian's investigation into the murder of the little girl and his efforts to discover exactly why his second bent has returned and why he is having blackouts.
This second story line expands when Lucian begins finding himself in a strange land during the blackouts. When he meets a beautiful, otherworldly woman in that land, she tells him that she and her people are unsure whether to lead him astray or grant him sanctuary in the Everlasting. She goes on to explain that even if they decide to grant him sanctuary, he isn't ready yet because "Thou hast no knowledge of the world." (p. 231) Finally, she tells him that she will welcome him at the end of the Path of the White Hand, but Lucian has no idea what that means—not yet, anyway.
Meanwhile, life gets harder for Lucian. He is making very little money now, not enough to support his sister and the household staff. That problem soon goes away, though, when someone burns down his house, killing everyone inside. The Registry blames Lucian for the tragedy and locks him away after a sham of a trial. By this time, it is obvious to Lucian that someone is out to get him, but who? And why? Lucian spends most of this book trying to figure out the answers to those questions, soon learning that he can't trust anyone—not even those he thought were his friends and allies.
The book is divided into four sections:
>> Part I: The Blades of Winter, which takes Lucian from his Registry position to the Necropolis to imprisonment.
>>Part II: The Killing Season, which follows Lucian through his months in the prison until he is finally released.
>>Part III: The Waking Storm, which mostly involves the final parts of the investigation of the child's murder.
>>Part IV: Harsh Magic, which resolves the mystery of the child's murder and the mystery of which Registry members are trying to get Lucian killed and why. The cliff-hanger ending signals the beginning of an entirely new chapter in Lucian's life.
Although Lucian is in his mid-twenties, this is really a coming of age story for him as he delves into his family history, investigates the truth of his memories, begins to test his magical powers, and learns to deal with a diverse group of people (i.e., ordinaries, the Danae, the Cicerons, priestesses, and Navronnian royalty). Although Lucian is heavily weighed down by bad luck and adversity in this novel, Berg always allows a ray of light to break through just when it seems that nothing will save him. She seamlessly weaves these moments into the complex and gripping plot, keeping this reader engrossed throughout. The book ends in a major cliffhanger, and I can hardly wait (a whole year!) to find out what happens next to Lucian, Juli, Bastien, and the rest of this quirky cast of characters.
Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for Dust and Light where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.