Cyador’s Heirs (The Recluse Saga book 17) by L.E. Modesitt Jr. (book review).

November 6, 2015 | By | Reply More

The setting is Cigoerne, a small country of decent people in the continent of Hamor. When their homeland of Cyador was destroyed, they fled to this location and were allowed to set up a small country, albeit surrounded by enemies, the sort of treacherous types who ill-treat their women. Fortunately, the leaders of Afrit, Merowey and Heldya don’t trust each other so it’s hard for them to co-ordinate an attack on Cigoerne. Does this situation remind anyone else of Israel?


Our teenage hero is Lerial, son of Cigoerne’s ruler Duke Kiedron but not the heir, which honour falls to his elder brother, Lephi, who is not especially nice. Like all wise young fantasy heroes, Lerial has a mentor. In this case, it’s Altyrn-Majer (stipended) – former commander of Mirror Lancers. A hard-nosed mentor who says, ‘…moral worth in itself does not win battles. What wins battles and wars is the ability to prevail and the willingness to do whatever is necessary, however distasteful that may be’ or the end justifies the means as they say in the CIA.

The war in question develops in the forest region of Verdyn which lies between Cigoerne and Merowey. Technically, it’s part of Merowey but they haven’t bothered with it much. Now they are planning to invade. When the forest people make it plain that they would like to join Cigoerne and place themselves under the protection of Duke Kiedron, he sends his son Lerial as an envoy, accompanied by a couple of squadrons of lancers. As you would expect from a world-builder of Modesitt’s talent, the ecology and economy of the forest people’s society is well realised. Anyway, the stage is set, the actors are in place, let battle commence! It does and the details of a hard fought campaign are realistically conveyed as usual by this talented writer.

A recent discussion on BBC Radio 4 on Romanticism made me realise what makes Modesitt’s fantasy unusual. Fantasy grew out of the Romantic tradition which stretches from Arthurian legends to gothic novels but Modesitt’s fantasy is not Romantic. There is nothing dreamy, impractical, unrealistic or emotional about his heroes who all work hard and do the right thing, to borrow a catchphrase from our beloved Prime Minister. They are constantly learning new skills and have a positively Victorian approach to self-improvement. They view the world with eminent common-sense. Good stories ensue but I’m not sure if this makes for great fiction. The most interesting characters have some sort of flaw but not Modesitt’s. There are no doomed princes yearning for lost loves trapped in other dimensions and fits of melancholy, lassitude or ennui are not done. Nor do they fly into barbarian rages. His settings, too, are unique in fantasy. The trappings are mediaeval, certainly, but the ‘magic’ is really just a different set of physical laws which are followed with Newtonian rigour. Demons are not invoked, nor Gods, spirits, elves or Munchkins. The heroes are human beings coping with a different set of circumstances but their values are those of white Anglo-Saxon protestants in 1950s America. Hard work and clean living should see them through.

This may be a backhanded compliment but Modesitt’s fantasies are superb bedtime reading. When my brain is too tired to focus on something difficult, the short chapters, clear writing, steady progress, familiar characters and general lack of anything too complicated make them ideal. When your eyelids start to droop, it’s only a couple of pages to the end of the chapter and the whole story is so plainly etched in the grey matter that there’s no worry about losing track. The books are easy to pick up again. In fact, they’re quite addictive and I have read many of them, despite my reservations about some of the values therein. The good guys are good but there’s a certain self-righteous certainty about them that makes me uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed ‘Cyador’s Heirs’, as usual, and have the sequel to hand. Recommended for Modesitt fans, worth a look for anyone else. If you like Heinlein juveniles and John Wayne films, you will probably like the ‘Saga Of Recluce’.

Eamonn Murphy

November 2015

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2014. 512 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $31.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-7477-6)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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