01/05/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: TOR. 400 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $38.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30907-6.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
‘Wellspring Of Chaos’ is the twelfth book in Modesitt’s long running ‘Recluce’ saga. The novels tell individual stories and can be read separately. 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. The magical system is pretty thoroughly worked out and consistent in all the books I have read so far.
Kharl is a hard-working cooper in Brysta, one of the main cities in Nordla, an island continent to the east of Recluce. Like most craftsmen in Modesitt’s books, he has an inherent love of order and makes the best barrels in the land, tightly sealed and long-lasting. He is also a decent chap which proves to be his undoing. Brysta is ruled by Lord West whose cruel son, Egen, is a Captain of the Watch with a taste for sadism and young girls. Kharl saves a neighbour’s daughter from rape by Egen and some drunken friends then takes in a Blackstaffer from Recluce when she is attacked and left for dead, probably by the same men. No good deed goes unpunished and two can get you in real trouble. The girl from Recluce has her throat cut and Kharl is accused of her murder. He proves he didn’t do it so the court accuses his consort and hangs her for the crime. Trade disappears as it becomes known that Kharl has earned the enmity of the powerful Egen. His tariffs are quadrupled making cooperage untenable. He loses his business and barely escapes with his life.
The first hundred pages of plot are given away on the jacket flap so the above is not a terrible spoiler. There’s a lot more to come over the next three hundred pages. Kharl flees Nordla, working his passage on a ship, and begins to learn to use the blackstaff he has acquired. His transformation from cooper to wizard of order is slow but steady.
I grow more fond of L.E. Modesitt’s work with every book. His heroes are often good men trying to make their way in an unfair world, hard-working artisans who simply want a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. They generally fall victim to bad people at the pinnacle of society. This being fantasy land, the bad guys are lords and wizards rather than politicians and bankers but the end results are much the same. The little man gets the short end of the stick.
Modesitt brings a great deal of realism to his fantasy. Meals are described in loving detail and the economic facts of life are accurately rendered. The wizards, interestingly, serve the lordly rulers but do not rule themselves and in battles the opposing wizards fight each other. They are like the big guns of the military. If one side doesn’t have a whiz of wiz they are bound to lose. Order opposes chaos. This opposition obviously brings to mind Michael Moorcock’s fantasy worlds in which Law and Chaos are opposed and there is a similar notion of Balance in Modesitt’s universe. However, the concepts of order and chaos are very different. Moorcock’s were manifested by gods who represented the two forces. Modesitt’s order and chaos are built into the very fabric of reality, like matter and energy.
This enjoyable novel has interesting reflections on life, duty, responsibility and power from an author who has been around the block a few times. There is also plenty of adventure in the story of a cooper turned hero. It might have been tempting to call him…Cooperman! Modesitt resisted this temptation. My only reservation, as with other heroes by this author, is the coolness with which he murders his enemies in sometimes sneaky ways. I don’t expect too much angst but a decent man might worry a bit more about killing people, even bad wizards.
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