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Valley of the Soul    by Tamara Siler Jones order for
Valley of the Soul
by Tamara Siler Jones
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2006 (2006)
Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Belle Dessler

Dubric Byerly, Castellan of Faldorrah, hoped he'd left the cruelty of mages behind at the end of the Mage Wars, decades ago. But as a new and disturbing case is brought to his attention, he begins to believe that a powerful mage may be behind a violent slaughter of animals. As he and his team investigate the gruesome carcasses that have the small village of Quarry Run in a frenzy, the crimes escalate. Ghosts begin to appear to Dubric, or at least, certain body parts of ghosts. This is a disturbing new development, challenging everything Dubric thought he knew about his ability to see the dead.

Dubric's fevered pursuit of a killer forces him to delve into disturbing territory. He's compelled to closely examine his past in an effort to figure out how it's tied into his present ... and his future. Meanwhile, every member of his team is struggling with the events of the past few months, when another mage destroyed much of what they held dear. Can they come together now to eliminate a threat deadlier than any they've ever faced, or will their own battles destroy them all?

The third installment of the Dubric Byerly Mystery series is quite different from the two that precede it. It's not quite as dark as the second book in the series, Threads of Malice, and the fantasy elements are much more prevalent here than they have been in the past. In a world where all mages are evil and must be destroyed, the danger they pose to the general population is terrifying. And Dubric is no longer a young man. Nearing his 70th birthday, he finds himself hindered by an aging body. Chasing mages simply isn't as easy as it once was.

Dubric's vulnerability is part of his appeal. In fact, every character in Valley of the Soul has his or her own issues to deal with. Most of them are scarred from the events that occurred in Threads of Malice. Unlike other authors who gloss over the effects of difficult circumstances on continuing characters, Jones examines those effects in detail. Her characters are scarred, their psyches forever changed by a madman's terror-filled pursuits.

The plot is complex, and the twists and turns abundant. The action moves quickly, yet the fast pace is interspersed with genuine moments of emotional tenderness and character development. The romantic subplots weave elegantly with the rest of the narrative to add depth to the story and provide a wonderful contrast to the gruesome murders that drive the plot.

Fans of Jones's Dubric Byerly Mystery series will be delighted with the third installment. While I recommend reading the first two books in the series to gain a greater understanding of what drives the characters, the book can also be read as a standalone.

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