At the edge of the eastern sea, the Fortress Evenide holds the Order of the Knights of the Ash. Greenshank is a paratus, one level below a knight, and is working day and night to be deemed ready for promotion. Greenshank is completely loyal to the Knights of the Ash, in part because he has to be. He has no memory of any life before two years ago when he was brought to the citadel. Then one day, returning from an assignment, he is accosted by an otherworldly woman, a Danae, and she calls him Lucien de Remeni.
Ash and Silver is the second book in Carol Berg’s SANCTUARY series. I’m not sure what to say about it, except that if you have liked Berg’s other work, you will like this one. Everything she does well is here, against the backdrop, once again, of a plausible and suspenseful political upheaval. Lucien de Remeni was the protagonist of the first SANCTUARY book, Dust and Light. Lucien was a scholar, both a painter and historian, who agreed to give up his memory at the end of the first book in order to save those he loved. His country is tearing itself apart in a brutal war of succession, and he has been contacted by two different groups of the powerful nonhuman Danae. Lucien’s memory of all those events is completely gone, removed magically. Members of the Order of the Knights of the Ash surrender their memories when they join the order. The memories are stored in artifacts called relicts, maintained by the order’s Archivist. In Lucien’s case, others remember exactly who he is, and plan to use him as a pawn in their schemes.
Berg writes a certain kind of protagonist: he is introverted, with scholarly skills rather than warrior skills. He often expresses doubts about his abilities; doubts not shared by the people around him. He is unaware of the love and loyalty he inspires. Lucien is in this mold, and he also possesses extraordinary discipline and a strong commitment to justice. Throughout this book, he navigates very troubled waters (literally and figuratively) without his memories to aid him.
In the first book Lucien had the acerbic, cynical coroner Bastien as an ally; in Ash and Silver, the curmudgeonly Boatmaster of the Order takes him under his wing. Others, including the Archivist and the Lord Marshall, offer their support as well, but Lucien is never sure who he can trust. The mystery of the destroyed city of Xancheira, introduced in the first book, is more fully explained here, and the reader meets the third, and by far the creepiest, of the three princes vying for the throne.
Lucien’s younger sister Juli returns, and one interesting thing Berg does here is let us see Lucien forced to relate to her as she is now. With no memory of the way he used to see her, the bright but helpless younger sister, he is forced to deal with the tough, smart young woman she has grown into.
As with other Berg books, Lucien undergoes mental and physical tortures in this book. In the early part of the book, we see the harsh physical discipline the Order embraces, but we also recognize that this conditions Lucien in a way that he is going to need. Later, the drilling, the exercises, the deprivation are what give him the strength to do what needs to be done. Near the end of the book, though, Lucien is tortured physically and psychically yet again. I realize that this is a book about transformation, but the need to cause the character so much pain seemed a little bit heavy-handed, especially given the torments he has already faced. Somehow, this anguish is supposed to make him a better, or stronger, person, but I don’t really see how.
Secondary characters, particularly Fix the Boatmaster and Inek, Lucien’s tough-as-nails mentor and commanding officer, are well-drawn, and once again Berg manages to create a complex political situation where people who are good and honorable will not always be on your side of the argument. Her writing is as gorgeous as always. A few glitches got past the editors, I think; I’m pretty sure we are told twice that Curator Pons has one arm because she lost the other in a powerful act of magic, yet on page 460,
A disgusted Pons stood at the great doors, her hands on her hips.
Surely a line editor should have caught that.
Ash and Silver completes the Xancheira mystery and transforms Lucien in several ways. Clearly there has to be a third book; Lucien’s issues with the Danae, while improved, are not resolved; the centuries of lies perpetrated by the corrupt pureblood Registry of Magic must be exposed and addressed, and there’s still that war of succession.
Ash and Silver delivers everything I expect in a Carol Berg novel, and now my only question is, “When I can expect the next book?”