Miserere by Teresa Frohock After abandoning his lover in Hell in order to save his sister, Lucian is left feeling battered and broken by his decisions. His sister, unappreciative of his sacrifices, continues to consort with demons and fallen angels, and now she wants him to use his ability to open Hell gates to serve her fallen master. This is the last straw for Lucian, who realizes that the sister he loved is beyond saving. He wants a chance to correct his mistakes, but can he redeem himself to the order he forsook and the woman he betrayed?
Teresa Frohock storms the gates with her debut novel Miserere. The story drew me in right from the start, giving me a protagonist with achingly familiar wounds and a world I wanted to explore on my own two feet. I really love broken characters with pasts they can't outrun, and Miserere was full of shattered people trying to put each other back together.
One of the things that really struck me about this book was its really unique structure. Normally, a book has an instigating event, something that propels the character into the story, then they go along until something forces them to change their plans. And they go along some more until the black moment, right before the climax and resolution, where everything seems to fall apart and you think they can't possibly win after all that.
Miserere started after what seemed like the blackest moment already happened. Lucian had already put his love and trust in the wrong person and betrayed everyone who depended on him and turned his back on everything he'd had faith in. But the book isn't about how Lucian got to that point. It's about how he pulls himself back from it. His backstory is revealed little by little, and we get to see just how far he fell as we see him climbing back toward righteousness. It's about healing, forgiveness, and redemption. No wonder I liked it so much.
Lucian seems like the character I should be talking about. His disability is plain. He was crippled deliberately by his sister, who wanted to prevent him from running away again. He walks with a permanent limp, suffers from fatigue, and has limited movement in his weak knee. There are several climactic points in the book where Lucian takes up his sword to defend someone and his knee gives out on him at the worst possible moment. I loved that it was in these moments, when he reveals his strength, his faith, and how far he's come from the man he used to be, that his weakness struck him down. Yet even when he's forced to the ground, he crawls toward danger. He struggles to find his cane so he can stand and resume his defense, or he goes straight for his enemies, even while on his knees.
While I loved Lucian for his strength and his journey, it was Rachel who truly fascinated me. Her obvious weakness was the eye she was missing from a demon possession, and she does have to worry about her blind spot while she's swinging her sword around. But what was the most disabling for her was the wyrm's infiltration of her mind. It clouded her thoughts and her abilities, led to blackouts and memory loss, and all in all weakened her in an entirely different way from the physical. Her ability to trust herself and her perceptions was shattered. Her physical blindness was only the outward expression of her clouded mind.
One last thing that blew my mind a little bit was the title. I picked this book up for the title. To me Miserere sounded like misery and that was just too intriguing to pass up. But miserere actually means “have mercy”. Given the characters, the plot, and the themes of this book, do I really need to say any more? Maybe just a little. Holy crap is that awesome.
In some areas the writing was a little amateurish – I could tell this was Frohock's first book – and I felt like some clarity was lost in an effort to spread out the backstory. Despite that, I tore through it in two days, so those must not have bothered me too much. This time I read it as an ebook, but I'll definitely be getting myself a physical copy so I can add it to my collection.