The Spirit Ring
First paperback edition cover
|Author||Lois McMaster Bujold|
|Cover artist||Stephen Hickman|
|Media type||Print Hardbound & Paperback & E-Book|
|Pages||367 pp (first edition, hardbound)|
|ISBN||0-671-72142-9 (0-671-72188-7 pb)|
|LC Class||PZ7.B91114 Sp 1992|
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The Spirit Ring is loosely based on Agricola's De re metallica, as well as on a folk tale, and the life of Benvenuto Cellini, as is explained in the Author's Notes that follow the last chapter. To these foundations Ms. Bujold has added a heroine, hero and villains of her own invention. The tale is placed in a fictional city-state, Montefoglia, on the Piedmont of Italy. Whether it is intended to be beside Lake Como or Lake Garda is not immediately obvious, though the former seems more likely. Magic, as a routine technical craft, has been added to the late Medieval time setting. The heroine's particular talent is pyrokinesis; her guide-word is "piro".
The heroine is fifteen-year-old Fiametta, daughter of a master metal-worker and magician: Prospero Beneforte. He indulges her wish to learn to make magical items of metal, though this is not generally viewed as appropriate for her gender, and she is casting a lion's-head ring with a love spell at the story's opening. The spell in fact identifies a 'true heart', rather than capturing such a heart, and Fiametta is chagrined when the heart it selects belongs to a young Swiss miner. This modest hero, Thur Ochs, has come to Montefoglia hoping his brother Uri, employed in the palace guard of Duke Sandrino, can get him a place in the castle.
But Uri is killed in the fight when Duke Sandrino is usurped by an ambitious mercenary leader, Lord Ferrante. Ferrante's magician, Vitelli, pickles Uri's body in salt for future use in making a ring of power — the spirit ring of the book's title. Fiametta and her father, who were present to deliver a commissioned work when the fight began, manage to escape but are followed by Ferrante's men. Prospero dies of a heart attack while holding the attackers back to let Fiametta escape, and his body eventually is added to that of Uri as a resource for ring-making.
The story then follows Fiametta, Thur, and the local Abbot as they find out Lord Ferrante's plans and invent ways to block them. The grandest of these is the use of the casting of a larger-than-life bronze Perseus figure, Master Beneforte's masterwork that had only reached the wax model stage before his death, and the voluntary investment in it of the spirit of Uri Ochs. This invincible soldier is able to lead a rabble of townspeople into the castle and kills Lord Ferrante just before it cools to immobility. The Abbot manages to shrive the spirits of the assorted casualties of the concluding battle, Fiametta manages to unmake the ring, and Master Beneforte in spirit form helps end the career of Vitelli. The moral of the tale is that triumph over evil was made possible only by the combined skills and actions of Fiametta, Thur, Uri, and Abbot Monreale. The happy ending is the marriage of Fiametta and Thur.
This book models themes that appear in most of Lois' subsequent writing: fully fleshed-out characters with credible motivations whose understanding grows as the story goes on, real-seeming landscapes with weather and vegetation, romantic attractions seen from both points of view, and villains who are evil but whose flaws of character and action flow naturally. As befits the setting of The Spirit Ring, there are characters that take Christianity very seriously. Both Fiametta and Monreale pray seriously that their magic, used to defeat the evil Ferrante, will work.