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Restoration - Carol Berg This is wonderful epic fantasy trilogy, absolutely recommended. The Rai-Kirah series is original and carries a vibe of classic fantasy with modern flavor, it was first published some 15 years ago and I didn’t notice any difference with the books of the current fantasy styles; it has all the elements I could wish for, like memorable characters, moral complexity, rich prose, a thrilling tale, solid worldbuilding, though-provoking themes and lots of entertainment. I loved reading it.

I feared a little that the story would lose direction at some point, considering the first book is both a standalone and a trilogy setter and the second, if not knitted with finality, has nonetheless a clear ending, but Berg surprised me yet again using a few open ends to weave the foundation for the last installment and raising the stakes for all the characters, deepening the exploration of all the parties involved in the world’s fate. This trilogy is not a single story split in parts, but three stages of the same tale, each rooted in the previous one but not totally inter-dependent. I would not go as far as saying that you can read book three without reading the previous ones and enjoy it all the same, but thanks to this careful structure with progressive complexity and slower beginnings, a reader is never dropped in medias res. Context-shaping and characterization are always solid and consistent, before long no additional details are required to understand the characters’ motivations and the logic behind their behaviors.
The characters are always extremely engrossing. Seyonne is the protagonist, of course, but once more he is not alone in his adventures. He doesn’t let go of his masochist streak either, but this time he gets less beatings himself, probably because humiliation and misfortune are equally shared with his companions.

“Guilt is a cruel taskmaster.”

The first half of the book felt weaker compared to all the other parts of the trilogy, though it featured a character I was very eager to read about and prepared the ground for the subsequent delivery, which was truly epic. At the beginning of the second half things speed unexpectedly forward and the brilliant layers of the plot converge; I was reeled in and surprised without letup. A few resolutions on the finish line were a bit simplistic, but not to a detrimental effect. I enjoyed the book very much!

Again, Berg doesn’t shy from raising some difficult questions along the way; Seyonne’s and Aleksander’s soul-searching finds its conclusion in the events of Restoration. The pitfalls of tradition, the meaning of faith, the nature of power and of men, the impact of individual and group choices are some of the topics explored ever since the fallen demon slayer and the warrior prince first met at a slave-auction block.

“What could make you alter the very nature of your soul? Nothing.”

I really liked the though-provoking themes so smoothly woven into the story and its complex world. During the action, this latter book in particular brings the concepts of culture clash, religious tenets and disruptive innovation to the extreme, and shows the ruinous effects of racism, slavery and domination of one people over another. Seyonne’s and partly Aleksander’s inner torments play a vital part as they discover their purpose, and their duality also reflects the conflict raging in the whole of the Dherzi Empire. Does the end justify the means? Should a being have the right to elevate himself above the others and judge what is correct? If such thing as moral superiority, or divine claim, exists, should other people be prevented from erring or should free will be respected at any cost? Or even should there be a compromise, wouldn’t such decisions choke the natural development of a society?
I’m not saying that the story is heavy or slow, far from it, but as it unfolds there is also a clear invitation to think, all the more so in Restoration. The book’s answers are politically correct. The final denouement, as much as I liked it and everything, strays a little of from the course I appreciated so far in the trilogy. Maybe Berg could have dared more, but the ending is nonetheless satisfying and intense, full of drama and beauty.

Carol Berg is a master storyteller and I’m looking forward to reading more from her.