Review of NATURAL ORDERMAGE by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see his website)
SAGA OF RECLUSE
Tor, September 2007
On the island of Recluse, magic isn't forbidden, exactly, but if you don't follow the rules exactly, you're bound to be exiled. Scribner Rahl figures he can lay low, using his ordermagic to help get him any girl he wants, and to keep his ink from going sour, but otherwise doing his job, sparring with his father, and enjoying life. He doesn't count on being set up by the Magisters who rule Recluse and resist any type of change. But that's what happens--and Rahl is bundled off, first to Nylan, a renegade part of Recluse, and then to the Empire of Hamor, one of Recluse's traditional enemies. Rahl has plenty of power, but he can't seem to learn to control it--and ends up endangering both himself and everyone around him.
In Hamor, Rahl discovers evidence of a plot involving the Recluse merchant house, and proves himself more than adequate with his weapons on the dangerous streets of Swartheld. Betrayed by his own people, he's sent to slave in the coal mines of Hamor--before finally being rescued by Hamor's mage-guards.
Rahl will appeal to younger readers who will empathize with Rahl's sense of being treated unfairly, of nobody being willing to listen to him, or to explain things to him in a way he can understand. His frustration with being handed a book and told to learn from it will ring true to those who learn best by doing rather than by study. Unfortunately, these same characteristics may prove wearing for readers who hear enough adolescent rage elsewhere. Rahl's uncanny ability with his weapons furthers the teen fantasy angle (who wouldn't like to be naturally skilled and able to defeat even weaponsmasters who have trained for decades?) but isn't really set up--early in the story Rahl's father, who has no order talent we know of, can soundly defeat him. A few week's training with Nylan's weaponsmasters seems unlikely to generate the kind of skill Rahl shows.
Author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Modesitt) continues his powerful Saga of Recluse with a fascinating look at the Empire of Hamor, the differences between Hamor and Recluse, and issues in training mages. Modesitt is an expert at setting up troubled and angry young men, throwing them into situations where they must either grow or perish, and watching them transform themselves. NATURAL ORDERMAGE is an excellent example of this technique. The conclusion of this novel, however, leaves the work only half done. Rahl has grown, but he still hasn't taken responsiblity for his own actions. During the entire course of the book, for example, he never gave thought to his expected child, nor considered how lucky he was that some of the top mages and weaponsmasters in two nations were willing to spend countless hours with him simply to bring out his talents.
Modesitt's story-telling got me through NATURAL ORDERMAGE in essentially a single sitting. I'm frustrated that Rahl still has so far to go--but then, I expect we'll see Rahl again, soon.
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