Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Bastard Reaction: Miserere by Teresa Frohock
Miserere: An Autumn Tale is the debut novel by Teresa Frohock, and it's beautifully written as promised in the very first paragraph. In the midst of the oldest and longest war in history, in a complex world and universe, a simple tale is told about a man who has loved, betrayed, and sacrificed much as he goes on a journey to save the life of the person he once abandoned. Crippled and broken, he'll risk it all once again for the one he once loved, and still loves, to protect the world from his sister's evil machinations. Highly recommended read, and it's the first of, what I understand, an intended trilogy.
I know some readers would be concerned about the religious aspects of the novel, with fears of a novel being preachy and such. Rest assured there's nothing of the sort. This is a fantasy through and through, and while Christianity plays a big part of the narrative, it's hardly the only religion represented in this world. The extent of the role of religion is merely as a means to access the magic, and even then not a necessity, and a means to build up the mythology. If there's any preaching going on is a simple call for tolerance and unity, as all the different religions represent bastions that work together to protect our world from threats of the enemies. It warns about the about the consequences of segregation and hostility. But this is a fantasy story like any other, so don't concern yourself with the role Christianity may have on the story. It's but one perspective, and it's not pushed onto the reader.
This is an interesting universe with various parallel dimensions and how they influence each other. We have Heaven, Hell, Earth, and Woerld, where the story takes place. Woerld is a dimension that stands between Hell and Earth, and it protects us from the influence of the Fallen Angels and the demonic realm. If the story is to be believed, many of Earth's worst atrocities have direct links to failures in Woerld from protecting the barriers that dampen this influence. And now a Fallen Angel named Mastema is posed to gain access to Woerld and force his influence and whatever consequences it will have on humanity.
Mastema was an interesting choice as a Fallen Angel chosen as the story's main threat. In some mythologies he's known as the Satan, as evil incarnate; a destroyer. In others, he's a demon that is in the service of God and serves a role of tempting humanity as a test. Sometimes a demon, in others a Fallen Angel, so there's a richness of mythology that one can use to speculate of the role of Mastema and his place in the hierarchy of the Fallen within the story in Miserere. Which makes me wonder, speculating that Mastema could potentially be considered Satan, what role would Lucifer have here, if any?
Speaking of Lucifer, I couldn't help but notice the resemblance of the name to that of Lucian, our main character. "Lucifer" means "bringer of light", while "Lucian" means "light" so it can't be a coincidence, and it exhorts the readers to parallel them. I mean, both are known as betrayers; they betrayed the person (or entity) they loved the most. They were both the favorites, in Lucian's case the favorite pupil (and of course had a lover), and both very beloved by those they betrayed and pretty much everyone. If some mythologies are to be believed, it could be said that both had great compassion, and probably it was that compassion that in some manner led to their eventual betrayals and downfall. Lucian also commands the Hell Gates, a very rare ability. Also, after his betrayal you can say Lucian was living a Hell of sorts in the hands of his sister, who broke him both physically and emotionally. For these reasons there could something more to this Lucian character than what meets the eye, or he's simply used a symbol. Maybe I'm just over-analyzing the issue, but regardless, it made the story more interesting for me as it gives it a different perspective through which to look at the events.
Miserere is well written by an author who shows great command of the English language. As mentioned previously, the first paragraph is a good one and is representative of some of the novel's best aspects. Frohock knows how to stage a scene, each chapter designed carefully with proper location details and how she goes about setting the mood and atmosphere with a combination of sounds, visual cues and character observations and inferences.
The novel features various point of views, but most at a limited capacity, keeping the focus on two or three through much of the novel. I personally like that balance, and I have to say that I liked all of them. I don't recall reading from any point of view that made me feel any type of agony of wanting to switch to a different one. They all had something to add to the story, and Frohock's deft characterization allowed for this success. It also helped that all the point of views had their stories interconnected with one another, so you never really felt like you were abandoning a plot thread to follow a new one. It was all relevant to all the characters involved. Personally I'm not a big fan of books that have many point of views, but the way it was handled in Miserere, and the potential to explore the world at a bigger capacity along with various interesting characters which really didn't get much time in the action, I think Frohock should really consider expanding the cast.
As much as I loved reading this novel, there were a couple of issues that prevented me from enjoying it even more. The superficial portion of the story, from an event perspective, was too simplistic in a some manner, too straightforward, which for me is usually not a problem, but as the story went along we kept getting reminders of some of the complexities of the events that occurred in the past, events that are the catalyst for much of the story Miserere is telling. As more of the past got revealed through the book, I just couldn't help feeling it outshone the story we were currently experiencing. The good thing is that Frohock has some good material to work with if she ever plans to write some sort of prequel, though I'm personally averse at reading these sorts of stories.
Another issue I encountered was a predictability that factored in as it regards to the role and alliance of a certain character, which wasn't as effective from a mystery perspective nor a thriller perspective, so when the supposed twist came it didn't pack the punch it could've. It was obvious to the reader what was going on with this character, and I didn't get the feeling from Frohock that she cared much to hide it from the readers, but it could've been handled better. Lastly, I felt the climax action portion was a bit prolonged when I thought that it should have been handled in a quicker and more economical manner. Other than these, I really don't have anything else to complain about, other than I wanted to read more of Catarina, but I can't blame the author from writing such an awesome, disturbing, and cruel character right?
That's the thing, I thought Frohock wrote good characters. All of them seemingly broken, and quite flawed and weak, yet juxtaposed with levels of strength and even perfection evident during other times, maybe even at the very same time. All of it exhibited best with the brother and sister combination of Lucian and Catarina. In Catarina we see a woman who's talented and beautiful, but at the same time is quite deranged and lives a life in denial. She's pretty much the most powerful character introduced in the novel, yet the most unstable of them and seems incapable of functioning without her brother, who's always been there for her to clean up her messes. Obsessed with the love for his brother, yet the most cruel of people. Lucian is both emotionally broken and physically crippled, yet has to live carrying the burden of his sister's and his own sins. In the past he was the best pupil, a very powerful person in his own right, but the love for his sister and his enabling ways put the lie to his strength. A broken man, who struggles to even walk, and now he has the burden of saving the world, and even more difficult, facing the sins of his past. The duality of strength and weakness found in these two characters, and these facets influence how they face their respective tribulations.
A myriad of themes were tackled in Miserere in an interesting fashion. Disabilities and over-coming them, even finding strength when times are most desperate. The importance of responsibility and teaching it, particularly taking responsibility for one's actions and facing the consequences of them. The dangers of over protection, of not allowing people to learn from their mistakes, and sheltering from reality and enabling that falseness of denial. The constant battle for your alliances for your love, loyalty, and trust at times forcing you to choose between family and friends and at times forcing you to make immoral and unethical decisions. The importance of tolerance. And we've barely begun to scratch the surface.
Additionally I liked how the novel was properly framed, it began with an idea and came full circle in the end. The story in part was at its essence the pursuit of an opportunity, and with that opportunity a shot at redemption, at a second chance. We use opportunity and second chance interchangeably, but I got the impression (even if I misinterpreted it) that Frohock went out of her way to make a distinction between the two. I gathered that opportunity was more of a journey, a position one has to earn, something you give yourself, while a second chance is merely something that is given (not necessarily earned) and part of the goal after one achieves the aforementioned opportunity. And it's Lucian's journey to give himself this opportunity, and from there come whatever it may.
Miserere: An Autumn Tale is simply a very good read from start to finish. A commendable effort from a debut author who I have no doubt will become even better. So give this novel a shot, heck you might even learn a thing or two about the multiple uses of owning a pet demon. I'm a big urban fantasy fan, and even though this isn't remotely close to it, in some ways it made me feel like I was reading events that happen behind the curtain of some of those urban fantasy I like to read, so it gave me that different perspective too. Good characters, well written, a good study of the human condition, good drama, good action, and an awesome antagonist; I don't think there's much more to ask, other than go and give this novel a try. And Mrs. Frohock, I'm eagerly waiting for the sequel, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
Buy Miserere: An Autumn Tale from The Book Depository.
For more information on this series and Teresa Frohock, please visit her website and follow her on twitter.