Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Review - Heather Rose Jones's Mother of Souls

Mother of Souls (Alpennia Book 3) by Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
Publication Date: November 29th, 2016
Format: Kindle, 240 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
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Luzie Valorin grew up in a family of musicians. When she married she thought she had put that life behind her but the untimely death of her husband forced Luzie to make some difficult choices. She could have run off to the bosom of her family in the countryside but instead she turned her home into a boarding house for theatrical souls. Though opening her house to strangers didn't make ends meet as she had hoped and she supplements her income by teaching piano lessons and doing copy work for her father's old friend, the great classical composer Fizeir. All this just to honor the memory of her dead husband and send their two boys to his old school. The only joy in her life is in composing. She writes little musical pieces to help her students. Whether it's for more confidence or to showcase their current abilities, it brings her joy. She even got up the courage to show Fizeir her work, but he broke her a little when he said he didn't think much of it. But he is willfully "blind" to Luzie's talents as she will painfully learn. She doesn't have just talent, she has the ability to create magic from her compositions. And to think, Luzie would have never known if Serafina hadn't come into her life. If a room in her house hadn't become available and Serafina wasn't in need of a roof over her head. Serafina changed everything.

Serafina Talarico is the daughter of Ethiopian exiles who settled in Rome. Her life was happy until the death of her mother. So many things changed, but what forced her into the arms of Paolo was her interfering sister-in-law who wasn't just domineering, but didn't want any Ethiopian taint in her life. Paolo seemed the perfect choice of husband, he was going to teach Serafina about the mysteries she could see but couldn't perform. Soon his displeasure with his wife's inabilities leads him to spend much time abroad while Serafina takes comfort in the arms of his cousin. Though everything changes for Serafina when she stumbles on the notes of Margerit Sovitre and sees a kindred soul. Throwing caution to the wind she journeys to Alpennia and joins Margerit's inner circle hoping to achieve a mystery that will capture the happiness she experienced in her mother's presence as a child. But she knows Margerit's hospitality can only last so long with Serafina's continued frustration at being unable to perform the simplest of miracles. Therefore she takes a room at Luzie Valorin's boarding house and is shocked to find that the composer is unaware the she is creating magic with her compositions. Serafina encourages Luzie's composing and leaps at the opportunity to help shape an opera whose magic might effect more then these two lonely hearts who've found each other.

Mother of Souls is the first book in Heather Rose Jones's Alpennian series that I feel achieved it's full potential. With each book building off the previous volume everything started to click into place over time and here with the larger cast of characters there was a better balance than just the two previous couples featured. The narrative no longer felt constricted by only four viewpoints and there was a wonderful blending of talents and interests, from music to printing, mysteries to sorcery, religion to godlessness, Alpennia to the rest of the world, here we have a Bloomsbury set for Alpennia. We have artists and free thinkers, a family, a tribe is being created. All these women who felt like they fit into society like a square peg in a round hole come together in salons and aren't crushed under foot by the patriarchy. Seeing as this series is Ruritanian lesbian romance a lot of inference can be made about educated women and their sapphic ways and at times it strains credulity and feels a little stereotypical especially given the previous two installments, but to these niggling criticisms I say that one, it's romance, and two there's Luzie. I should say Luzie and Serafina because I really like how their relationship forms and eventually ends. They are a different kind of heroine. Both have been married, both have been thrust into a new world that they aren't sure will accept them, but both have amazing resilience, and both end up in a place you wouldn't expect them to. That I think was the best part of Mother of Souls, the unexpected.

Yet among all these characters there is a strong theme of female empowerment running rife. This book is a rallying cry, as is the opera Luzie writes about the female philosopher Tanfrit who is only remembered through her connection to the male philosopher Gaudericus! Women have been told to be quiet for far too long! Men are always keeping us down and taking credit for what we do and when that can't work just erasing us from history. I literally can not think of a woman who won't identify with Luzie's relationship with the composer Fizeir. Here is a man that needs her and his need leads him to purposefully insult her work which he obviously thinks is worthy because he passes it off as his own all while she hero worships him. Who hasn't been taken advantage of by a man in power in one way or another? To be told you are "less than" just so that they can keep you in line and keep themselves on the top of the heap. At times I was just filled with rage for Luzie and her situation. She has real talent and has been kept down by the male status quo. While things are still far from equal I really don't know what I would have done if I had been raised in a time when women and their education were frowned upon. To not be allowed to read and learn? I shudder at the thought. Which is why Margerit's founding of the female academy named after Tanfrit is such a wonderful counterpoint to Luzie's journey. Here is a place where women and education is prized and that makes me immensely happy.

What also makes me immensely happy is the expanding of what is considered "magic" in the Alpennian world. The first book Daughter of Mystery dealt with thaumaturgy and The Mystic Marriage dealt with alchemy. These are both "sciences" that were practiced in medieval times. Yet the thaumaturgy we see here is very specifically on the religious mysteries end of the spectrum and the need for devotion to God. Which is why the introduction of alchemy in the second book was cunning in that it can be learned by non-believers and was paving the way to a new magical system. We were slowly moving away from God and looking for a "word other than miracles." In fact it's very clear with all that is happening that "[t]here was more magic in the world than could be encompassed in Margerit's theology." I nearly cried for joy that Margerit was dinged a little. I am such a strong non-believer that I rebelled at a world where only the prayers of certain people were answered and this was what "magic" was. I am not joking that I DID cheer when Margerit's partner Barbara said "[s]ometimes I think we need a different word than 'miracle.'" Sing it sister! Non-religious magic is here to stay! And how is it here to stay? In Luzi'e music. Yes, you could argue that originally music was a strong part of religious devotion, but I'm not going there because I finally have magic unencumbered by the church! Music, to me, has always been magical. Theater even more so. Therefore combining the two is a rare form of magic. Just look how much Hamilton changed our world and it's easy to see that in this world, as in ours, music and performance can change anything.

Though I wouldn't be me if I didn't have something that annoyed me to no end. So Antuniet Chazillen, one of our two heroines from The Mystic Marriage is now a royally appointed alchemist and one of our Alpennian Bloomsbury set. She actually has REAL power. Power that I feel could be used dubiously, but that's an issue I had with the previous volume, not this one. Antuniet also is obsessed with her family's legacy and therefore despite having the Vicomtesse de Cherdillac as her life partner she is determined to have a child. She plans to go about this in the regular fashion, think of it as a 1800s sperm bank because she's so not the type to marry some man just to have a child, leaving Jeanne in the process. But she's so obsessed with her reputation, and here I scratch my head because come on, she lives with a woman and is doing magic, that she decides to fool everyone as to how she became with child. She decides to claim that she created a homunculus because it's the second great act of alchemy and she is THAT GOOD! Excuse me!?! WTF!?! This is so counter intuitive. Antuinet is actually an alchemist and she is resorting to the tricks of charlatans? My mind boggles. I have a real problem with people who have abilities, doesn't matter what kind, artistic, whatever, who resort to "alternative methods" to achieve what they want. Because it isn't fair! It's like plagiarism, you are getting credit for something you didn't do. Nope, nope, nope. Plus, just as an aside, wouldn't people see the baby and be like, nope, not what a homunculus is supposed to look like? No? Just me. As always. But then again... "When a mystery works with nature and not against it, it's hard to distinguish truth from fraud."


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