L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s seventeenth novel of Recluce takes us into a future where Cyador has been swallowed up by the Accursed Forest, destroyed because weakened wards, greed and poor rulership meant that “there was no one to hold back the Accursed Forest when the dark angels called upon it to destroy Cyador”. Now there is only a sole colonial outpost on Hamor that is growing into the new city-state of Cigoerne. Where once their heirs of Cyador strolled the Palace of Light, now they are barely in a townhouse, having purchased enough desert land from Duke Atroyan of Afrit to begin the renascent Cyadorean culture. It is a rebirth that has been prosperous for Cigoerne is a “land more than ten times the size it was when we came here” with “more than forty thousand people”.
The story follows, Lerial, second son of Duke Kiedron, a sixteen year old who is (for those readers well-versed in the ways of Recluce) clearly going to be a powerful ordermage even if he both denies it and hides it. His family – the heir Lephi, sister Ryalah, cousin Amaira, aunt Emerya and his mother Xeranya – serve as a noble supporting cast giving both Lerial and the reader hints and advice as how to grow up with both humility, patience, perseverance, and a strong understanding of justice. This largely entails spending time at Teilyn under the tutelage of Arms-Commander Altyrn. It starts with him digging ditches, reaches its midpoint with handling a sabre expertly, concludes with dealing with a raid. Our young hero is ‘good to go’.
The second half of the novel deals with Lerial’s career as an undercaptain in the Mirror Lancers defending the forest of Verdheln. His few companies, together with the help of the Verdheln woods people, succeed in driving back Duke Casseon’s battalions. It is a war that helps Lerial to understand his true heritage, develop his order powers, have a several brushes with death, and emerge as the perfectly humble hero. All of which leaves us nicely poised for the next novel – Heritage of Cyador.
Modesitt is an intriguing author because his style is unique amongst the ever expanding novels of the fantasy genre. Oddly enough, if a reader were to sit down and try to explain what happens in his novels it might go something like this:
“You have to read this latest novel by Modesitt. It’s as brilliant as the rest of them”
“Er, OK. So…what happens?”
“Well…” What does happen precisely? “It’s about a young man who learns to fight and learns about trading. Oh, and some politics. There’s a girl as well. He becomes really powerful and saves everyone.”
“Sounds fascinating” Not.
“And he’s a magician so we learn about order and chaos. How it works. There’s philosophy. And…and…a lot of descriptions about food.”
“Is that all?”
“I know. It sounds lame. But, trust me, it’s amazing.”
“If you say so.”
This is precisely the exasperating crux of Modesitt’s brilliance. If I am brutally honest, nothing much ever happens in his books, everyone is just learning how to be perfect, they are a vehicle for his own brand of philosophy, we get a lot of descriptions of mundane banality (especially who is eating what), there’s zero emotion in the characters who make god-like life and death decisions about everything based on their own morality and no sense of conscience whatsoever…and they are terribly polite when doing it.
I know. Not really selling it am I?
But….it’s confoundedly brilliant writing. Hypnotic even. You just keep on turning the pages and reach the end wanting more of precisely….well nothing. But amazing nothing. Readers who are order-bound…those who like things just so, want good to triumph over evil, believe in justice above all else…will likely understand this.
As regards the philosophy…here’s a taste of what you can expect:
“Both order and chaos are forces. How they are used determines what they are.”
“Listening to the right woman can save a man, and listening to the wrong one will like as not destroy him. So will not listening at all, but it takes longer.”
“In some ways, men who are weak within themselves are the most dangerous, especially if they have taken great pains to conceal their weaknesses. Because they are weak, they tend to be ruthless when it is not necessary.”
“Never threaten to kill a man. Decide whether to kill him or not. Then do it.”
“A woman’s beauty has nothing to do with her character or temperament”
“That’s one of the most valuable traits a leader can have – to see the wisdom of good suggestions made by others, and to accept them and carry them out.”
There’s a lot more…and lastly, the idiosyncratic quirk of Modesitt – his love of describing food. Even makes the reader’s mouth water:
“marinated sweet peppers that surround the strips of braised goat before each tube is batter-dipped and fried.”
“the white cream sauce he has drizzled over the biastra is excellent, with the piquancy of a good cheese and a hit of mint.”
Modesitt should be writing a gourmand column as well as these books. Anyway…Recluce…long may it continue. Read it…even if this review makes you think I’m crazy for doing recommending so.