The Mage-Fire War (The Saga Of Recluce book 22) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (book review).

‘The Mage-Fire War’ is the 22nd book of ‘The Saga Of Recluce’. but don’t let that put you off as they can mostly be read independently. This is the third book featuring Beltur, a nice, ruthless young man who’s an order mage of great power. The previous Beltur books were ‘The Mongrel Mage’ and ‘Outcasts Of Order’, in that order.

As this book starts, Beltur and his companions are setting off for the small town of Haven in the wilds of Montgren. He has been tasked with restoring law and order to the settlement and establishing a council there as the representative of the Duchess of Montgren. His companions are his consort Jessyla (healer/mage), friend Lhadoraak (order mage), Lhadoraak’s consort Tulya and their daughter. Taelya, a little girl but a chaos mage with great potential. They are also accompanied by some troopers to help them settle in and bring the law back to Haven. The town is an outpost and too close to Hydlen, a land where the Duke is ambitious to expand his territory.

It’s worth summarising the powers of a mage in ‘The Saga Of Recluce’. There are two forces at work in magic, order and chaos. Order mages wear black and chaos mages wear white. Black order mages, like Beltur, can sense things over long distances and create fields of order, basically force fields. These can form shields and also render the user invisible, if necessary. Beltur can also form his force fields into shapes with cutting edges. A skilful mage can form a small force field around your throat and crush your windpipe or put a tight one all around you to cut off your air supply until you suffocate. Beltur is a very strong order mage.

Chaos mages wield energy which they can hurl as bolts at opposing armies. They can also sense things over distances of a kilometre or more, depending on their strength.

The characters mostly grow on you as the book progresses steadily through its five hundred pages. I came to like Lhadoraak, the less powerful order mage, as he worked hard and did what he could but found it impossible to kill anyone. I was not so enamoured of Jessyla, Beltur’s consort. On two occasions, she clamps shields around soldiers until they turn red, simply because they disrespect Beltur or doubt his formidable power.

These men are actually allies, so this behaviour is silly. Beltur himself is a decent sort of chap but, like all Modesitt heroes, rather given to murder of anyone who opposes him. He does fret about all the killing but essentially he has the morals of Judge Dredd. However, the setting is akin to the American wild west and he’s the sheriff so that’s the way it’s gotta be, I guess.

As the story progresses, Beltur goes from sheriff to soldier, a role in which he has previous experience. Once he’s cleaned up Haven, the next job is to repel the forces of Hydlen. As ever, Modesitt’s military experience and knowledge of how terrain and tactics really work is useful in giving all this action an air of verisimilitude.

The book sags a bit in the middle or maybe I sagged, but once past that point, it’s hard to put down. You want to find out what happens next even though in your heart of hearts, especially if you’ve read other books in the ‘Saga Of Recluce’, you have a pretty good idea. This is an author faithful to traditional narrative expectations.

It’s probably best summed up as another pleasant plod from Modesitt which fans will enjoy. The key word is pleasant as this is the kind of comfortable, immersive fantasy that takes you away from this world to another reality where the good guys win, albeit not without some sacrifices. I suppose that’s true of most fiction and a major reason why we read it. As for this world…stop it. I want to get off.

Eamonn Murphy

October 2019

(pub: TOR, 2019. 544 page hardback. Price: $29.99 (US), $39.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-20782-1)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His works are available on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited.

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