‘Mage-Guard Of Hamor’ is the fifteenth novel in ‘The Recluce Saga’ and a follow up to ‘Natural Ordermage’ which was the fourteenth. Although the saga is multi-volume, many of them can be read independently or in pairs, like these two, as they feature different time periods in the history of this fantasy world. It would be best to read ‘Natural Ordermage’ before this one.
In ‘The Recluce Saga’, order and chaos are not the two states of a teenager’s bedroom but balanced magical forces. In ‘Natural Ordermage’, young Rahl was exiled from Recluce because his talent as a powerful natural ordermage was deemed unsuitable for that orderly isle. He was given a job at a trading post in Hamor. After some trials, he rose to the rank of Mage-Guard in Hamor, a sort of policeman keeping order and apprehending lawbreakers.
As this book starts, he is on a trip to Recluce with his mentor, Taryl, a mage of great ability, to report to the authorities there on recent events in Hamor. While back home, Rahl has dinner with the healer Deybri with whom he may be in love. Unlike some other fantasies, Modesitt’s books are very old-fashioned about love and marriage with the hero liking one girl and chasing her until they get respectably married. In this, they are suitable for young readers. In general, they promote old-fashioned values with right and wrong clearly defined. The author’s moral certainty seems to be based on ‘Starship Troopers’: hard-headed and practical but perhaps a little ruthless to those with softer hearts or weaker heads. At one point, Rahl kills a man for lying to him.
On returning to Hamor, Taryl and Rahl become involved in crushing a rebellion against the emperor by his evil brother, Golyat, who is assisted by powerful chaos mages. Rahl has no military experience, so he’s put with a company of soldiers and a competent commander to scout ahead of the main army for any trouble. They encounter a lot. Rahl’s trials in learning to ride a horse, learning to fight battles, cope with the death of comrades and so forth was very reminiscent of Quaeryt’s similar experiences in the author’s ‘Imager Portfolio’ stories. Modesitt seems to have some expertise on military matters – strategy, tactics, supply chains and other practicalities – but also shows the camaraderie of men in war and the pain of seeing your fellow soldiers killed and wounded.
The world-building is meticulous. Vulcrows and pearapples are neat touches to let you know it isn’t Earth. Also on Recluce, you really can have nothing but love babe eight days a week because there are eight days in a week. They are called Oneday, Twoday and so on. This is useful because Modesitt follows the hero’s actions day by day and as well as a strong sense of place – aided by maps at the front and back of the book, there is a real sense of time passing. All this contributes to that aura of reality that the best fantasy needs.
Whenever I pick up a Modesitt book, I find it hard to put down. He has a way of making you want to know what happens next, a sure sign of a good storyteller. I enjoyed this one, too, but, when you’ve read quite a few as I have now, there is a sense that he’s treading the same ground. He isn’t because his vast output includes Science Fiction novels as well as other fantasy series. In any case, I suspect that many fantasy fans want more of the same from their multi-volume chronicles and I confess to a warm, comfortable feeling when immersed in the familiar world of Recluce. As long as a reader peruses other stuff, too, and doesn’t stick to an exclusive diet of the cosily familiar, it’s not the worst indulgence in life and you don’t get a hangover. Recommended to fans and worth a look by new readers who want a change from all that sex and gore currently doing the rounds.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 621 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $30.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1927-2)