The Spirit Lens: A Novel of the Collegia Magica
by Carol Berg
This is basically a fantasy magic murder mystery. Portier, a scion of the royal line, some 15th cousin or other, who is a librarian at the Collegia Magica ends up coming to court to investigate the attempt on the life of the sovereign king. The investigation was originally undertaken by the close friend of the king, who has disappeared. The prime suspect is the queen and/or her mages, but the king refuses to allow them to be questioned, having utmost faith in his wife.
Portier himself is a failed mage. Although he comes from a blooded family with magic, he failed his tests at the Collegia. The best he can seem to do is sense magic. On top of all these restrictions and problems, he’s saddled with two partners he can’t stand. One is the buffoon cavalier Ilario and the other is a grouchy hermit mage named Dante who flies in the face of all tradition. Plus, he has to work in secret, lest the fate of the first investigator become his as well.
The plot is intriguing and keeps your interest up high. It is very convoluted, and not designed to really be solved on your own. There’s magic, deceit, spying, murder attempts, and some torture thrown in.
There is also friction between the traditional magic and the new sciences that are blossoming. And Dante’s grasp of magic has to do with energy and patterns, whereas the old school use formulaec ‘particles’ of elements such as earth, air, water, spark (which can be fire or light, apparently), base metal, and such.
Dante seems to carry some inner demons as he infiltrates the dark dealings of the queen’s mages. Portier has his own dark secrets, and his relationship with both Dante and Ilario go through various changes. What I personally find most refreshing is that there isn’t much of a love interest. Not the big ‘hero gets the girl’ kind, at any rate.
While not high on action/adventure or grand spectacle, the characters of this work all have a richness and depth, and so do the events unfolding. I found it a bit sluggish to start, but by the end, I was gripped by the events and eager to find out the conclusion.