Miserere: An Autumn Tale
by Teresa Frohock
Night Shade Books (2011)
I'm not a reader who gravitates toward sword-and-sorcery type fantasy, but I'm always up for stepping outside my comfort zone. A good in-road for a guy like me is an element of horror, which in this case comes in the form of demonic possession.
Lucian Negru may be an exorcist, but if you're expecting something akin to William Peter Blatty, you're going to be disappointed. This is dark fantasy set in another world--aptly called Woerld--between Hell and Earth. A bastion that guards Heaven from all Hell quite literally breaking loose.
Lucian is a crippled, indentured servant to his sister, Catarina, who schemes to breach the barriers between Hell and Woerld in order to become one of Woerld's rulers. Bound by an oath of loyalty, he's betrayed his his mentor, his brothers-in-arms, and his true love, Rachel, literally abandoning her in Hell at Catarina's behest. So when an opportunity shows itself for redemption, he takes it and flees his sister's clutches to seek out Rachel and a chance at forgiveness. "Miserere" translates to "mercy" after all.
His chance at redemption comes in the form of a young girl, Lindsey, who has inadvertently stepped through a gateway known as a Veil from Earth into Woerld. His heroic actions come with a price though, and prompt his former comrades to seek his arrest, and Rachel is the one sent to pursue him. But Catarina has dispatched her own forces to find Lucian and drag him back to her, so he can fulfill his role in her evil schemes.
The book gets off to a bit of a slow start, but understandably for the characters and the stakes to be introduced. It was with the introduction of Lindsey that had me nervous for a moment though, because the stark shift from Lucien's point of view in the medieval Woerld to Lindsey's present-day Earth. Fortunately, the disparity in setting in brief, just to get Lindsey into Woerld and act as an initiate for readers to experience this strange land through her eyes.
The geography of Woerld was a bit murky for me as a read, but I'm thankful there wasn't a ton of exposition, and the story focused on the characters. The story is told essentially through Lucien's eyes, but passages focusing on Rachel, Catarina, and Lindsey offer great vantage points to see what is going on and how everything is interconnected among them and other characters.
The magic and supernatural elements of the story were dealt with in expert fashion, with what I thought was a unique use of prayer and meditation as a way to cast spells. The good guys summon magic from themselves, like an inner light--literally at times--while the villains must resort to using other means like amulets. Aside from a couple instances where Teresa seems to dwell on the minutia of the magic a bit long, she offers a great system for the fantastic to seem plausible.
The story as a whole feels like a stand-alone novel, but Teresa leaves just enough room for a continuation in a likely series of novels for readers who are left wanting more. But the ending is satisfying enough in its own right that readers reluctant to invest in one more fantasy series won't feel cheated by loose strings at the end of the novel. Fantasy fans of every stripe should be charmed by this story, and those who tend to veer from this kind of story may want to give it a chance, because it's far more accessible than what preconceptions might tell you.