As I continue to (slowly!) read through the fiction on my shelves I've got to two books by Carol Berg - they are the first two of her trilogy The Rai-Kirah. The books are called Transformation and Revelation. I never bought the third one, and it's things like that that've made me taken on this project - did I not buy it because I didn't fancy it? Did I not buy it because I never got round to it? Should I buy it? It's definitely not the only series where I've got a couple then not the rest.
The protagonist of the story is Seyonne, an Ezzarian who has been a slave in the Derhzi Empire for 16 long and brutal years when the story opens. In the first chapter he is bought by the heir to the Empire, Prince Aleksander, branded on the orders of one of he Prince's companions (as a form of revenge on the Prince) and forced to brand said companion by the Prince. Aleksander is spoilt, cruel and doesn't see why he shouldn't destroy people when it takes his fancy. Seyonne once had magical powers before they were tortured out of him by the Derzhi, and the very fact of his slavery has made him outcast and unclean in the eyes of his own people - he's just going through the motions of life until he dies. It doesn't exactly seem like the start of a promising relationship - but there's more to Aleksander than meets the eye at first, and Seyonne is drawn into not only caring about the Prince but also joining forces with the Prince to save him & the world from the Rai-Kirah demons he was trained to fight in his homeland.
As I read the first book I was assuming that I hadn't finished buying the trilogy because I'd just forgotten to pick up the third book. The story sucked me in and carried me along. Whilst there were things I wasn't keen on when I finished it and thought about them, there were other parts I liked. The setting was interesting - not a faux-Europe, instead something with desert flavours. The Derzhi were once nomads in the desert, and this came through in the ways their empire was set up and how their aristocrats interacted. For instance, hospitality rules (sharing food and drink) are still important despite their change of lifestyle, which was plot relevant. I also found the magic interesting. The Rai-Kirah demons come through from another world and set up residence in human souls - the Ezzarians have learnt ways to enter the victim's soul and fight to drive out the demon. That was Seyonne's role in his society before his capture. I also like the relationship between Seyonne and Aleksander. I feel it did go too quickly from the very low point at which it started to trust and liking, even with the help of Seyonne's mystical sense that Aleksander is worth protecting. But still, I didn't notice that until I'd finished the book, if you see what I mean - I was hooked into it while I was reading it.
Sadly I didn't really buy any of the interpersonal relationships except the building friendship between Seyonne and Aleksander. Particularly not the relationships between Seyonne and the women in the novel. And that was one of my problems with the second book in the trilogy. I was much less keen on the series after reading it, and I am now intending to give these to charity rather than complete the series.
The second book takes what we know about the world so far, and makes us - and Seyonne - doubt it. Are the Rai-Kirah really just rapacious demons trying to conquer the world? Where did the Ezzarian's abilities come from? And why is Seyonne's heavily pregnant wife now not pregnant and pretending she never was? This last is the driving force of the plot for the beginning of the book, which was a shame as it made me cranky every time that bit of the plot came up. I didn't buy into Seyonne and Ysanne's relationship, their utter lack of trust in each other and inability to just have an honest conversation made me unable to believe they'd ever been in love ever. And yes, it's not supposed to be idyllic (far from it), and Seyonne is supposed to be being an idiot, and Ysanne isn't supposed to have his best interests at heart and I don't think she's supposed to've been in love with him. But even knowing all of that didn't make me any more interested in reading about it. And having spent the first few chapters gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes at the characters I wasn't inclined to be charitable about the rest of it. I suspect if that plot line hadn't existed I'd've enjoyed the rest rather more, but it does exist.
Another problem I had with both the books was the sheer level of physical & mental abuse that Seyonne absorbs. I'm not sure I believe that he could be either alive or sane by the beginning of book 1 (given the backstory we see later) ... and certainly not by the time that Berg has finished gleefully torturing him over the two books I read.
So my overall verdict is that Berg has some interesting world building and ideas, but ultimately I found the execution too flawed.