Carol Berg: Explorations


Hi all and thanks to the Magical Words crew for having me in this month! It’s been a while since I debuted a new series – 2010, it would have been. Dust and Light, released just this week, opens my newest, the two-book Novels of Sanctuary. This is my fifth series, and no, it definitely doesn’t get any easier to send it out into the world. But I’m taking a deep breath and typing away.

The Sanctuary novels mark a couple of firsts for me. The first first? Each of my previous four series and my standalone, Song of the Beast, take place in a different world.
The mountains and deserts of the Derzhi Empire for Transformation and the other books of the Rai-kirah.
The dragon-ravaged kingdoms of the Seven Gods in Song of the Beast.DustandLight_mid
The dual worlds of the mundane Four Realms and magical Avonar for the Bridge of D’Arnath quartet.
The early 17th century style Sabria, burgeoning with science and discovery, for the novels of the Collegia Magica.
And for the Lighthouse Duet, Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone, a prosperous medieval kingdom on the brink of a dark age.
Never have I written a new series in an previously existing world. Until Now. So why depart from my usual practice?

The Lighthouse books took place in a deliciously complex world. A civil war rages in a once-prosperous kingdom. The weather has declined into what seems eternal winter. Famine and plagues have resulted, along with fanatics who roam the countryside, determined to reduce civilization to rubble in order to appease their particular deities. In this world magic is confined to a group of wealthy families – self-named purebloods – who provide their services to cities, nobles, clergy, or whomever else can afford to pay for them. To nurture and preserve their magic, purebloods keep themselves detached from ordinary society and politics in a mannered, disciplined, restrictive subculture, binding themselves to their clients by strict contracts. Nature itself seems to support their strict life, constraining a sorcerer’s inborn magic to either the father’s or the mother’s bloodline talent.

It was great fun to develop this chaotic society and, in particular, the pureblood culture. But as it happened, the hero of Flesh and Spirit spent his life running away from his pureblood heritage. He called the life of a pureblood sorcerer “slavery with golden chains” and it – quite literally – came near driving him crazy. But Valen’s jaundiced viewpoint and the strange path of his life left many aspects of pureblood society unexplored. I really wanted to discover more about it. That’s why I chose to go back.

Which leads me to the second first. All of my previous works took flight from an impression of a character, the image of a person in an uncomfortable situation. Maybe world weary slave who was once a magical warrior, standing on the slave auction block. (Seyonne in Transformation) Or a broken musician who has been brutally imprisoned for seventeen years on the day he is kicked out of prison still not knowing why. (Aidan in Song of the Beast)

But when I decided I wanted to revisit Navronne in order to explore the machinations of pureblood life, I had to go looking for who might tell the story. I wanted to tell the story of someone who, unlike Valen, believed in pureblood disciplines, not just as rules to be obeyed, but a duty mandated by the divine gift of magic in his blood. Someone who didn’t run away. These books would not be either a sequel or a prequel to the Lighthouse books, but rather a parallel story, covering the same time period, contrasting the adventures of the rebel and the believer. That way, readers would to be able to read either series first without spoilers. But who was this guy who followed the rules?

And there was Lucian de Remeni-Masson just waiting for me! Here’s what Lucian says about how to cope with life’s difficulties:

Discipline, so my family had taught me. Reasoned behavior derived from custom, clarity, and conviction. Registry discipline had been a foundation of my family, prescribing how we honored and worked with each other, as much a part of me as how I ate, how I walked, the very languages I spoke. I believed that purebloods and ordinaries had been born to different purposes in this life and that my place required certain things of me, no matter that they felt awkward or difficult or unkind.

In Ash and Silver (the second book of the duo, coming next year) a young woman tells Lucian that he had taught her the meaning of duty:
Not needful tasks commanded or required of thee unwilling, but joyful purpose, no matter difficulty or hardship.

When we meet Lucian he is contracted to the Pureblood Registry – those who administer the strict pureblood life. He draws identity portraits of purebloods. His magical bent for portraiture ensures that his rendering of a subject is recognizably true. Unfortunately it is also boring.

Lucian is stuck in this boring job because of a single violation of the rules when he was at a university. Yeah, he’s very different from rebellious, illiterate, and modestly talented Valen, but Lucian certainly isn’t perfect. And I certainly couldn’t let him sail through life in his cocoon of wealth, privilege, and talent. His youthful indiscretion and a terrible family tragedy have begun a spiraling downfall that sweeps him into a life he had never imagined. Seemingly overnight he finds himself at the city necropolis, drawing identity portraits of the dead. Not as comfortable, but certainly not boring!

The heart of Dust and Light is the interweaving of two mysteries – the strangling death of a young street urchin in the royal city and the savage massacre of a wealthy pureblood family by rampaging fanatics. The investigation of these two mysteries leads my hero to dangerous discoveries about the fundamental nature of pureblood magic in Navronne.

Oh, yes, we explore the culture and then threaten to blow it up! What could be more fun than that? I hope readers will enjoy the exploration along with me. Dust and Light is available in trade paperback, ebook, and audio from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar bookseller.

Note: For those who’ve read the Lighthouse books, Dust and Light actually begins about two years earlier than Flesh and Spirit, in the early days of the civil war. And though readers can read either series first, you’ll find a few “Easter eggs” – references to a few old friends and places. I hope that will be fun.


CarolBerg-smallerThough a devoted reader, Carol Berg majored in mathematics at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado, so she wouldn’t have to write papers. Somewhere in the middle of a software engineering career, she started writing for fun, and the habit ate her life. Carol’s fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. They’ve been read, so readers tell her, on five continents, on a submarine under the Mediterranean, in the war zone of Iraq, and on the slopes of Denali. Her newest, Dust and Light, is the first in a new fantasy/mystery duology about a sorcerer who draws portraits of the dead. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls Dust and Light “captivating and satisfying” and RT Book Reviews names it “outstanding.” Carol camps, hikes, and bikes in Colorado and lives on the internet at



10 comments to Carol Berg: Explorations

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Yay! Lovely to have you here, and this new project sounds pretty cool. I certainly enjoy getting to see nifty things from multiple perspectives. I think it really adds richness to everything. I’m curious now though how you would feel about a reader reading *this* series first – do you think it would really color their reading of the Lighthouse books?

    Of course, I like multiple perspectives a little too well, and my main project has rather a number of POV characters. I know that’s considered a common pitfall of novice Fantasy writers, but I just like it too much to change it. I have one scene that probably most people won’t much notice but I adore it – one of the POV characters in the resistance sees a POV soldier character from a distance and describes him completely differently than the soldier would ever describe himself. It just really tickles me when I read it because it reminds me that stories and characters really aren’t as self-contained as they might fool you into thinking.

  • I tried very hard to make sure readers could read either one first without spoilers. There are a few characters that appear in both (not the principals!) But in many ways, I think that reading this one first would be the smoother of the two orderings. Valen and Lucian could hardly be more different. Their adventures, their concerns, and their personal journeys take them to very different places. They are NOT two pairs of eyes on the same problems, although the background of the war and the winter are the same.

    You’re right that good stories are not entirely self-contained. I always like to think that characters have lives beyond the frame of the story.

  • Razziecat

    Hi, Carol, I’m so excited to see you here! I absolutely adore the first Lighthouse books and have re-read them several times, and I can’t wait for Dust and Light to land on my doorstep (should be soon!). I love the idea of exploring the pureblood culture from the inside. Navronne is so rich and detailed, it feels as though I could wander into it…stepping over the threshold while out for a walk. 😀

  • That’s why I just couldn’t leave it alone. I had to go back!

  • quillet

    OMG I’m fan-girling so hard right now! Carol Berg! Lighthouse world! SQUEE!

    *deep breaths*

    Flesh and Spirit was the first book of yours I ever read (since then I’ve read ten more 🙂 ), and Valen remains one of my favourite characters of all time. I really loved Navronne, so I’m kinda beside myself with excitement right now. Seeing the pureblood world from a totally different perspective will be fascinating. Just wondering, though, did you find that you discover new things about the world when you see it through a different character’s eyes? Much of it would be “set,” but did some of it change or grow?

    Oh, and one curious question about the (gorgeous!) cover art: shouldn’t that half-mask be vertical rather than horizontal? Or am I remembering things wrong? Don’t answer if it’s a spoiler. 😉

  • I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed the Lighthouse books (and Valen is also one of my own favorite characters).

    First answer (no spoilers!) – yes, the half mask should be vertical. Should have been on the earlier covers as well. But the marketing department seems to believe that people won’t recognize a vertical half as a mask. (Uh…can you say Phantom of the Opera???) But this is a battle I am never going to win. Pureblood masks are also silk, not rigid, but I understand that’s hard to show. At least the mask is beautiful! (And I love the cover art, too.)

    Now to the more complex question. Yes, I certainly learned more about the world by looking at it through Lucian’s eyes. I did define a lot about Navronne and its world in the Lighthouse books, but besides just more of the inner workings of the purebloods, I discovered some other people hanging around in the streets, the kind of people that are often overlooked. We see inside some of the temples of the Elder Gods, And although all of Dust and Light takes place in the royal city of Palinur, Ash and Silver will take us to a very different part of the country and an entirely new institution. Plus, you’ll learn a couple of fun little tidbits, for example, the origin of the rumors of a royal Pretender.

  • Hi Carol!! So nice to see you here. Congrats on the new release. For the rest of you, check out this book. I read the ARC of it some time ago and really enjoyed it — enough to blurb it. Check it out!

  • Thanks, David! And I’m looking forward to the rest of the month. See you on Thursdays, 14th, 21st, and 28th.