On Eightday morning, I rose early and decided it was time to write the review of ‘Outcasts Of Order’ by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. After washing, I had a light breakfast of cheesed eggs with a few strips of ham accompanied by a small beaker of ale. My consort went off to do her work as a healer. I walked the dog and noted that it was a cool, cloudy day with a slight breeze from the north which might signify rain later. When the daily chores were finished, I settled down to write, pondering how best to convey the slow, unhurried pace of Modesitt’s work in which every aspect of the hero’s daily life is transcribed in exquisite detail.
‘Outcasts Of Order’ is the latest book in the ‘Saga Of Recluce’. It takes up where ‘The Mongrel Mage’ left off and features the same lead character. Beltur (for it is he) was raised as a white or chaos mage but wasn’t very good at it. After he fled his home city of Fenard, where the Prefect of Gallos murdered his uncle, he discovered that he was more of a black order mage, though he could control chaos a little, too.
In fact, the possession of both order and chaos talents made him powerful once he learned to combine them. In everyday life, he works with a blacksmith named Jorhan to forge cupridium blades strengthened by order, a valuable item as the art of such forging has been lost for centuries. He also works several days a week as a patrolman in the market square catching thieves.
In ‘The Mongrel Mage’, he was conscripted into the army and his talents helped save Elparta, his current home city, from an invasion by the neighbouring state of Gallos, that used to be his home. However, the ruling council of Elparta is run by traders, businessmen who lack gratitude or, in Modesitt’s books, almost any redeeming quality. In alliance with certain black mages in the city, they plan to make a slave of Beltur and his blacksmith pal by forcing them to sell goods cheaply to a trader who will then take all the profit.
Moreover, black mage Waensyn wants to consort with Beltur’s girlfriend Jessyla, a healer. Ultimately Jorhan, Jessyla and Beltur have to flee Elparta for Axalt, a city in the mountains. Jorhan’s sister and her wealthy husband live in Axalt so they are assured of a warm welcome. Here I am giving away no more plot than the jacket flap.
As with all young Modesitt heroes, Beltur is a likeable fellow who works hard and always tries to do the right thing. Powerful but modest, he avoids killing even rotten enemies when possible. His relationship with Jessyla is worthy and faithful and they only kiss until they are consorted. There are coy references after that sex being rather good fun but nothing explicit, which is fine and makes the books suitable for intelligent children.
Now and again, in remembrance of things past, it occurs to me that Beltur doesn’t act like a young man. It’s made clear that there are taverns and people who use them. Our hero never goes out with his mates and drinks a lot of beer then tries to chat up unsuitable women. All his urges are under control. Admittedly, the circumstances of his life have made him necessarily responsible but an occasional bout of recklessness might make him more sympathetic. Perhaps he’s a bit too perfect. Actually, he’s a nice, clean-cut responsible lad straight out of an idealised 1950s USA of the Eisenhower era.
My spoofing of Beltur’s daily life at the beginning of this review should not lead you to think that there’s no action. There is some as the travellers are assaulted by brigands in the snowbound mountainous landscape. There are other minor crises, too, but this isn’t an adventure story. Modesitt’s forte is to make you like the characters enough that you keep reading to see what happens next and how they rise to the challenges of everyday life in a mediaeval world. As in real life, the principle task is to earn enough silvers and golds to pay for a roof over your head and food to eat.
There’s also the matter of rubbing along with difficult people, powerful rich men used to getting their own way and treacherous rulers. Beltur has certain magical abilities but, like any young man in love, all he wants to do is lead a quiet life with Jessyla and earn enough money to treat her well. As the book progresses, there are hints that the world won’t let him do this. Perhaps he’s slowly learning that with great power comes great responsibility and I wouldn’t be surprised if his saga continued in another volume.
As with all modern fantasy, the ‘Saga Of Recluce’ is now enormous but it’s possible to read each book as a standalone. Ideally, one would peruse ‘The Mongrel Mage’ before ‘Outcasts Of Order’ but it’s not strictly necessary. Modesitt’s thoughtful, slow, philosophical story telling won’t be to everyone’s taste but I like it. The characters talk intelligently about politics, taxes and the proper role of the state. Modesitt’s views are those of a sensible US Republican or, in Britain, a One-Nation Tory, and I enjoy his blog. The books are loooooong yet isn’t that what fantasy fans prefer?
You can sink slowly into them and for a week or so spend your spare hours vicariously living the life of a fine, admirable young hero. There are worse ways to waste your time.
(pub: TOR, 2018. 640 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $36.50 (CAN), £21.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-25017-255-6)