Premise: There is a place that separates Earth from Hell, and that place is called Woerld. The Katharoi are knights who come from various religions and are imbued with special powers used to protect Woerld and Earth from the powers of Hell. The Fallen want nothing more than to take over Woerld, break into Earth, and eventually storm the gates of Heaven itself.
Lucian is a former Katharos in exile after saving his twin sister Catarina out of Hell in exchange for his lover Rachael. The problem is that Catarina doesn’t want to be saved. Catarina has been making deals with Mastema and the Fallen Angels and Lucian is accused of joining in her evil work. After being left in Hell but rejecting Mastema, Rachael has been disfigured and possessed by a demon. She is doing everything she can to keep the demon at bay, but her Katharoi powers are starting to show weaknesses that make those around her question her loyalties.
Then foundlings Peter and Lindsay Richardson come through the Crimson Veil from Earth to Woerld, though too close to a Hell Gate. These kids will become new Katharoi if they can be found before the Fallen get to them. Peter is found by Rachael but has been attacked, and Lucian goes after Lindsay in Hell, breaking his covenant with the Citadel to not open the Hell Gates ever again. He saves Lindsay but opens himself up to more troubles, including complicit Katharoi wrapped up in the schemes of Mastema and the Fallen. They soon find out that they can trust no one and Lucian, Rachael, and Lindsay must rely on each other. Is there anyone they can trust?
Themes: Love is what gets Lucian into his situation in the first place. What is the difference love and loyalty? He loves Rachael and his twin Catarina, but because of his promise to his father he protects Cate by bringing her out of Hell instead of Rachael. He might have assumed that Rachael was strong enough to make it out alive, but his loyalty and love for his sister made his decision difficult and ultimately led to his exile.
After fleeing from his sister, Lucian has a chance for redemption. He finds an old Katharos, Matthew, who gives Lucian his sword and helps him escape Hadra in order to go help Rachael overcome the demon inside her. In Lindsay he has a chance at redemption, but in order to do so he has to break his promises to not open the Hell Gates. He also must do what is right, even if it means his own death, in order to find redemption with Rachael, who is given the task of bringing Lucian back to the Citadel to be judged.
Lucian may be running from Catarina, but he does not run from his fate. In order to gain mercy along with Rachael’s trust he gives himself up to her and John, his Elder, to be judged. He speaks the truth and his side of the story is finally told. Will he die for his past and current crimes and broken promises or will Rachael say “Miserere, Have Mercy” and will mercy be given?
Pros: The imperfect characters had real depth with inner turmoil that made them all believable. The magic system is interesting, with religious tones that were engaging without going down the easy roads of being blasphemous or preachy. I don’t know if it was intended, but to have real power invoked through prayer made me think about the real life application for the religious. There was a real care for people making mistakes and whether or not they are willing to be held accountable for them or for others to hold them accountable. The bad guys turn out to be really bad guys who are willing to do horrible things to people for what they want. The imagery for some of these were just plain creepy, in a good way.
Cons: Lindsay seemed to fade into the background near the end of the story. I don’t know if she is being set up for another book because there are paths here to be explored more in future books. I am ready for more books in this universe. I just wish we could have learned more about Lindsay’s fate before the end. I guess we’ll have to wait for book two.
Recommendations: Miserere is a fascinating read full of religious symbols and character interactions that are realistic and gripping. The scenes were intense, from magic and swordplay battles to intimate meetings between scarred souls. I went into Miserere not knowing what it was about and with no expectations and was surprised by a deep and stirring look at redemption for the past mistakes of people entrusted with great power. If all fantasy had this much hope for redemption, then I want more fantasy from Teresa Frohock.