Teresa Frohock’s Miserere is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a far too long. Sadly, as is the case with a lot of debut novels by female authors, I’ve had a hard time locating a copy in my local bookstore. But eventually I gave up looking and just ordered myself a copy. When I concluded my Round Table of Gender Bias in SF/F, I gave readers the opportunity to choose my next read To Be Read pile and Miserere was the clear favorite. I dove right in, and immediately regretted that I’d waited this long to delve into Frohock’s fascinating debut. With engaging world building, deeply realized characters and plenty of pathos Miserere is a debut novel that begs for a wider readership.
Miserere is set primarily on Woerld, one of four parallel realms of existence. Woerld sits between Hell and Earth, and serves as to keep the demonic Fallen from overtaking Earth on their march to the gates of Heaven itself. Populating Woerld are the Katharoi, soldiers allied with various earthly faiths who work together to foil the machinations of the Fallen and keep their home and Heaven safe. These Katharoi are drawn into Woerld from Earth through the Crimson Veil and are blessed with divine powers that assist them in their mission to defend Earth.
Frohock starts the narrative with Lucian Negru, a disgraced Katharoi who is being held prisoner by his twin sister Catarina. Many years ago Lucian betrayed his lover and fellow Katharoi Rachael and followed his sister into Hell, in an attempt to persuade Catarina to break her pact with the fallen angel Mastema. He’s failed both his sister, who is unrepentant and mad with demonic power and his lover, who now hates him and is possessed by a demon called Wyrm. Lucian makes the decision to escape Catarina’s clutches intending to die in the attempt, when he comes across a foundling, Lindsey Richardson, a twelve year old from Earth who is drawn to Lucian, who is meant to be her Elder. His faith bolstered by both his escape and the bond that he feels with his new foundling, Lucian sets out for his former home the Citadel, knowing it will bring him face to face with both a possible death sentence and the lover he betrayed. If he can stay out of Catarina’s clutches long enough to reach his destination.
Rachael who has been crippled both physically and emotionally by her battle with the Wyrm has been sent by the Citadel to bring Lucian back to face justice for breaking his vow to no longer use his magical gift to open portals to Hell. She has dreamed of Lucian and knows that this mission will be fraught with danger both from the Wyrm who is close to victory and the trials of coming face to face with her former lover who abandoned her in Hell so long ago. Complicating matters are warnings that the Citadel has been infiltrated by agents of the Fallen.
Frohock’s narrative succeeds primarily on her excellent sense of character. Every character is richly imagined full of incredible strength and tragic weaknesses. This is especially true of Lucian and Rachael. Both are physically damaged by their past mistakes, and emotionally scarred as well. Only by finding what strength the do possess, either by a reclamation of faith or learning to forgive can they face the dangers that they face.
Lucian while a powerful exorcist is a shadow of the capable warrior he once was and any use of his gifts carries the threat of censure if he returns to the Citadel that has been his only true home since coming to Woerld. Rachael’s battle of wills with the Wyrm has left her isolated, cynical, and bereft of emotion. Once faced with the man who abandoned her and caused her no end of pain, she must accept that he may be the only person who can aid her in preventing the Fallen’s plans to overthrow the Citadel from within, if she can only trust him. Readers will fall in love with these characters, seeing a reflection of the conflicts and wounds in themselves and find themselves invested more in their personal dramas than the overarching conflict between the Katharoi and the Fallen.
The world building is done in large brush strokes with many questions left unanswered, and lots of room for expansion in the possible sequels. The groundwork is solid and serves as an intriguing backdrop for the personal story of Lucian and Rachael. In spite of the religious themes, Frohock manages never to descend into preaching at the reader and those expecting sermonizing will be sorely disappointed. Miserere is firmly planted in earthly concerns of love, forgiveness, regret and redemption. I for one am looking forward to whatever Frohock puts her considerable talents too in her next effort.