01/05/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: TOR. 494 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $38.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31213-1.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
‘Ordermaster’ is the thirteenth book in Modesitt’s long running ‘Recluce Saga’ and a direct follow on from ‘Wellspring Of Chaos‘. The series is set in an alternative world with five island continents, Candar, Recluce, Nordla, Austra and the largest, Hamor. Recluce is the smallest of these but probably the most powerful because its mages have mastered order and the isle is run in an efficient orderly manner. The opposing force is chaos and chaos wizards are found all over the rest of the world but especially in Hamor. The magical system is pretty thoroughly worked out and consistent in all the books I have read so far.
In ‘Wellspring Of Chaos’, Kharl the cooper was forced to flee his home town of Brysta on the continent of Nordla when his good deeds annoyed the local lords. In his travels, he discovered that he was an order mage and as this book starts he is landed gentry, having been rewarded with an estate for helping Lord Ghrant of Austra fight off rebels trying to overthrow him. The rebels were aided by chaos wizards from Hamor, an ancient and powerful civilisation rather analogous to China which seems to have designs on world conquest. Foiled in Austra, the Hamorians have started to stir up trouble in Kharl’s homeland of Nordla, arming the evil Egen, son of Lord West, as he plots to overthrow his sire and elder brother. Kharl is sent as an envoy to his homeland to watch developments and take such action as he deems necessary. This also gives him the opportunity to help those people who aided him when times were hard as a down and out cooper.
First, though, there is more rebellion in Austra. Lord Ghrant is not very strong, not very wise and a few other nobles think they could do a better job of running things. With aid from Hamor, they start more trouble and Kharl has to sort it out. This adventure occupies the first part of the book and it’s probably the best part, to be honest.
After that, things get a bit dull. Kharl learns something about the law before going back to Austra as he wants to see what happens in the courts there and being a law student envoy is a good excuse. Once in Nordla, he sets up residence in the embassy and scouts around trying to find and help old friends. He does the odd spying mission to find out what’s happening. It may all be necessary to the plot but it seems to drag on somewhat. Finally, Lord Egen’s rebellion kicks off and the real action starts but it’s a long time coming.
Modesitt is never going to be the most thrilling of writers, so his dull patches can be a bit of a slog. However, his strength is the in the characters and in the solid economic and philosophical underpinnings he gives his made-up worlds, not in any flash or glamour. The slow bits are slow but I never felt like putting the book aside.
Perhaps because the story was not terribly gripping at times, I noticed a stylistic quirk. Modesitt is one of those writers who tries to avoid ‘he said.’ Instead, he uses ‘he offered’ and ‘he returned’ or precedes the dialogue with some statement about the actions of the speaker, eg ‘Bert raised his glass. ‘Death to all Hamorians!’ He also inserts such action into the middle of the dialogue which according to James Blish ‘reads like a freshman translation from the German.’ However, tastes differ in these things and trying to avoid the ‘he said, she said’ repetition is a common trait among writers. There are no edicts from Mount Sinai on such matters and each must do as he wishes. It does not in any way detract from the book.
‘Ordermaster’ is not as good as ‘Wellspring Of Chaos’ but it’s still pretty good. If you read the former you will probably want to know how it all turned out for Kharl the cooper and there is some pleasure to be had from this volume.
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