The Soul Mirror is the second in a series, but Berg does an interesting switch of protagonists and provides enough subtle background that the reader is brought up to speed quickly.
In The Spirit Lens, we’re introduced to a Renaissance-like world poised to move into the realm of science. The first book is narrated by Portier de Savin-Duplais, a “sad-sack of a man” (Carol Berg’s description at a reading, not mine). Portier has failed to learn magic, even though it’s in his blood—but magic itself has been reduced to an incredibly complicated, but rote, set of procedures. It’s obvious to the reader that the people who control magic (the collegia magica) don’t understand how it works and hence, Science is taking over.
Portier is called by his distant cousin, the King of Sabria, to investigate attempted murder and an “evil” use of magic. Portier teams with two unlikely fellows: Dante, who appears to be a naturally-made magician (unique in this time), and Ilario, who appears to be an absurd fop.
By the end of the book, we learn about Portier’s history with his father and the after-life of this world (beyond the Veil, where the trials of the dead can be mitigated by the living). We know that Ilario, just like The Scarlet Pimpernel, isn’t what he seems. Dante is still mysterious and may to be going over to the dark side of magic. The three of them determine that a man titled The Aspirant is behind the violence, and that he intends to disrupt the natural order of the world. Portier decides the Aspirant is really one Michel de Vernase. Since Michel has disappeared (supposedly investigating the same problems as Portier), this seems a bit convenient, but Portier makes a good case and Michel is tried in absentia.
But Now, A More Likable Protagonist
The Soul Mirror picks three years later with Anne de Vernase, Michel’s daughter. She hates Portier for destroying her life and family (her mother’s gone insane, her father’s still missing, her little sister’s just died in a mysterious magical accident, and her little brother’s held in prison as hostage.) However, she believes her father did everything that Portier claims, and when Portier shows up with a command for her to join the King’s court and be married off—she complies.
Anne’s life starts as a living hell, and gets even worse. However, she has the spunk to push her nose into her sister’s mysterious death, which ensnarls her deep into court intrigues. Anne was much easier for me to relate to, particularly because she wasn’t agonizing about magical theory. Supposedly, she has no abilities herself, so we are saved from all the complicated theories and procedures. It was also more fun to examine Portier, Ilario, and Dante from Anne’s point of view as she learns their secrets.
Don’t Miss This Second Novel
Portier was difficult to warm up to, but Anne was such an engaging protagonist that I couldn’t put the book down. She has more concrete goals than Portier: She has to save herself from a horror of a marriage, find out what happened to her sister, save what’s left of her family, save the Queen of Sabia, etc. Her goals, plus her logical approach to solving them, made this book exciting and enjoyable. I recommend reading The Soul Mirror, no matter if you haven’t read the first book. You can pick up the history I’ve outlined above because Berg is such an excellent storyteller.
As a writer, it’s interesting to examine these books. They’re both excellent reads, and they’ll show you the power of a likable protagonist… If your protagonist is cold and self-contained, a difficult personality like Portier, then it’d be instructive to read The Spirit Lens and study Carol Berg’s methods.