THE DAEMON PRISM (Collegia Magica, book 3) by Carol Berg
ROC, 2012, 482 pages, 978-0-451-46434-7, Trade Paperback, $16.00
Dante the necromancer is the most reviled man in Sabria, indicted for crimes against the living and the dead. He salves bitterness with a magical puzzle—a desperate soldier’s dream of an imprisoned sorceress and a faceted glass that can grant one’s utmost desires. But the dream is a seductive trap. Haunted, blind, driven to the verges of the world, Dante must risk everything he values to unravel a mystery of ancient magic, sacred legend, and the truth of the divine….
The conclusion to Carol Berg’s Collegia Magica trilogy is, without a doubt, epic. As usual, Berg’s plot is rich and complex, and attempting to predict where you might end up by the conclusion is a challenge. Unlike the first two books in the series, The Daemon Prism takes the reader outside of Merona and the Castelle Escalon into towns and countries never seen or, in some cases, heard of in previous volumes. This expansion on the world is unexpected but enjoyable, and it gives the reader the opportunity to see new things—Temple tetrarchs instead of Camarilla mages, for instance.
As with the last two books, the narrator has changed. This time, we’re introduced to Dante’s inner voice, which is always frustrated, often manic, and frequently self-loathing. It’s different, certainly, from Portier’s inquisitiveness and Anne’s determination, which is all the more apparent when the narrators begin alternating. Dante’s narrative continues to be the main thread of the novel, but it is interspersed with other events in other voices. All of the point-of-view characters are veterans, however, so there’s no need to worry about becoming familiar with new storytelling styles during the final novel.
The third book is quite a dramatic turn from the first largely because magic is even more a focal point to the story than before. With Dante as the main narrator, this shouldn’t be surprising, but readers who have developed preconceptions based on the previous books may be surprised about where the plot ultimately leads. It’s a much more grandiose ending than I had anticipated, particularly since I was such a fan of the investigative storyline in the first book, but it didn’t disappoint in terms of wrapping up the series.
The story moves slowly in the beginning, but it certainly isn’t boring. We learn a lot about Dante, and he is, without a doubt, the character who evolves the most by the end. We even come to understand the circumstances surrounding his childhood and the development of his magic, as his journey leads us to his hometown. More often than not, his rages and often twisted decisions lead him into trouble rather than out of it, which is where much of the book’s tension comes from for the first half of the story.
Portier, Anne, and Ilario take up smaller roles in this book, and we don’t see much of them until later. I was pleased when they were able to interact again, since the variety of personalities was part of what made the other books so entertaining.
And, of course, it can’t be disputed that Berg’s prose is, as always, beyond compare. Her narrative styling is constantly impressive, always immersive, and beautifully descriptive. For this reason alone, I never worry about whether or not I’ll enjoy a book she writes, regardless of how I feel about the plotline (and I always feel good about them, so that’s not much of a concern, either).
If there’s anything I would have wished for regarding this series, it would have been to see more of Ilario’s character and to have the opportunity to explore it more deeply. I do understand that he was peripheral rather than front-and-center, unlike Portier and Dante, but given that he was one of the original three agentes confides, I had anticipated that he might have an opportunity to narrate at length at some point. Alas, he remained in a supporting role, but even so I found him to be wonderful.
I have no doubt that I’ll continue to recommend the Collegia Magica trilogy to friends and random strangers for quite some time to come. It’s immensely enjoyable and rich in character, world building, magic, and mystery. It’s inevitable, I think, that current fans will love this series, but I expect people new to Berg will find it a good place to start as well.