One of the books I picked up at ArmadilloCon this year was The Spirit Lens, by Carol Berg.
Someone is trying to kill the king of Sabria and keeps missing. So far, all the evidence points to Queen Eugenie. To try to divine the plot and clear the queen’s name, King Philippe summons a distant cousin, Portier de Savin-Duplais, to solve the mystery.
This is a rich, complex fantasy. Everything about it is layered, from character to plot, to the mystery itself. No one is as they seem, not even Portier, the main character. At times, it gets carried away with its own complexity. The uncareful reader will not be rewarded. I read fast, and I know I missed clues, and at times I was frustrated by the twists and turns of the plot, but this is more user error than author error.
However, despite my own carelessness, I was swept along on the ride to the extent that when a certain character’s fate was announced, I gasped out loud.
As with all murder mysteries, most of the fun is trying to guess the traitor. I wasn’t able to, but I did have fun looking for clues. Mysteries set in secondary worlds have a tougher job than those set in our world, whether that be a bed & breakfast in a charming New England village, or an English country house. Fantasies have to establish the world, and the author can’t take the reader’s knowledge for granted. That said, Berg has done a great job at creating a classic mystery whodunnit in a fantasy world.
I picked up the book because I heard Berg read from the sequel, The Soul Mirror, at ArmadilloCon, and I was so impressed I knew I had to get this one. The Spirit Lens also confirms once again what I have known for a long time, and what publishers might want to consider — the mystery and fantasy genres go together like peanut butter and chocolate. We’ve already seen the success of paranormal romance. I think readers are ready for the next series of the Big Fat Mystery-Fantasy.
Berg’s series, subtitled The Collegia Magica, is a good outing in this new genre.