Fairhaven Rising (Saga Of Recluce book 22) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (book review)

March 22, 2021 | By | Reply More

Fairhaven Rising is the 22nd book in the ‘Saga Of Recluce’, set in a fantasy world where magic is a matter of controlling order and chaos. White mages control chaos, which is basically energy, useful for war as they can fire blasts of power at opposing troops. Black mages control order and can form invisible shields of force, conceal themselves by making the shields impenetrable to light and bind chaos, to a degree, which is handy for healing. It’s a clever and logical system, almost Science Fiction. You don’t need to read twenty-one novels before starting ‘Fairhaven Rising’ as L.E. Modesitt writes mini-series of three or four books set at different eras in the vast saga. The three that precede this one are ‘The Mongrel Mage’, ‘Outcasts Of Order’ and ‘The Mage-Fire War’ which tell the story of Beltur and his growth from callow youth to powerful mage and leader of Fairhaven.

However, you don’t even need to read those three first because Beltur is not the protagonist here. Instead, the point of view switches to Taelya, who has been part of the cast for the previous books but only as a child with much latent power as a white mage. Now she is twenty-three years old and a guard in the road patrols that keep watch on the borders of Fairhaven, which is a town, not a country. Her best friend and fellow undercaptain is Kaeryla, Beltur’s daughter, and there’s a feminist theme here. The setting is mediaeval and a woman’s place, in most lands, is in the home. Taelya and Kaeryla meet many male chauvinists but it works to their advantage as the men underestimate them.

The story starts fifteen years after the event of ‘The Mage-Fire War’ with Fairhaven as a thriving town albeit still a part of Montgren and paying tariffs to the duchess of that land. Montgren is a small, relatively poor country surrounded by large powerful states and seems to exist independently only because none of them wants anyone else to control its trade routes. That doesn’t stop ambitious, greedy, tyrannical rulers having a go occasionally and both the Viscount of Certis and the Prefect of Gallos are threatening invasion, as is the Duke of Hydlen. The Duchess of Montgren has to make an alliance with one of these to stand any chance of keeping her country safe, but which one and will the mages of Fairhaven have any say in the matter?

No, it turns out. They just get sent off to war when the choice is made but that’s almost halfway into the story. Meanwhile, as is Modesitt’s wont, the reader gets to follow Taelya in her day-to-day life as she rides patrol, gets along with her buddies, dines with her family and trains constantly to improve her skills for the war that she knows is inevitable. Hard work and training are key parts of the Protestant work ethic with which Modesitt’s books are infused. They are the key to achievement. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Work! How do you become a super-powered mage able to fight off evildoers and defend your friends, your family and your country against bad guys? Work! How do you become a successful fantasy novelist, bash out two big fat novels every year and get them on New York Times Bestseller lists? Work! It’s not a bad philosophy.

Modesitt is no stylist but, like Isaac Asimov or Anthony Trollope, has substance instead. You won’t find witty similes or glorious metaphors in his prose but the meat of it is good, clear storytelling with solid, likeable characters and some lessons in how to live life. (Work!) Because of his background in politics and the military, he has deep-rooted knowledge of how governments function, international Realpolitik, army life and how battles are fought, with particular attention to geography. His books fall into the sub-genre of military fantasy and he’s good at it. Modesitt’s common-sense is enjoyably applied to real-life politics in the blog entries on his website.

Like previous volumes, this one sags a bit in the middle. Following Taelya’s daily life is good for a while but it goes on too long and you start to pine for some serious action. As usual, when the big events begin, the reader is glad he stuck around, even though the conclusion is predictable, especially if you have read other books by Modesitt. I found the heroine a bit self-righteous and that’s an on-going problem too but, all in all, it’s a satisfying read: comfortable, steady and the recipe as before. I guess that’s the whole point of big fantasy sagas.

Eamonn Murphy

January 2021

(pub: TOR, 2021. 464 page hardback. Price: $30.00 (US), £22.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-25026-519-7)

check out website: www.tor.com

Category: Books, Fantasy

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