There are many great stand-alones in fantasy, but, arguably, the genre is built on series. I guess, when you create an entire new world, just to place your story there, you’re tempted to re-use it 😉 And it pays better, and readers expect it. So, while Tolkien started with trilogy (that he is quoted to think about LotR as one book), his successors published longer and longer series or various length, renown and quality. For me, Belgariad and Dragonlance were gateways into post-tolkienian fantasy, and, after ca. 25 years of reading fantasy, there are still more huge – and reportedly great – series on my TBR.
Recently, I found myself on an extended business trip abroad, with only one book in my luggage (a 900-page one, but still 😉 ) and I visited an excellent second-hand bookshop that offered a pretty complete collection of one of the longest-going fantasy sagas, L.E. Modesitt’s Saga of Recluce. While not featured in most of the top tens, it’s often mentioned as an interesting series of novels, with carefully thought-through magic system and an innovative approach to the issue of chaos/order balance. I’ve always been interested by this last issue, as a huge fan of Zelazny‘s Amber. I bought the first four volumes, and now, after reading the first two, I reached a preliminary verdict.
And Tolkien it ain’t 😉
I mean… in a small dose, it’s entertaining enough, but the greater ambitions of the author are, I believe, unfounded. I’m not terminally bored, as I was after Shannara, or bloodthirsty, as I was after wasting quite a lot of time with The Wheel of Time, but it will be some time before I go for the third and fourth book, already bought, I doubt I’ll ever go beyond that.
Young protagonists of Modesitt have adventures, and they find their place in the great Chaos/Order struggle taking place in this stereotypical fantasy world. A few islands, a few not too diverse cultures, a workable world that would work better with more sophisticated stories and more complex characters.
After two novels I already feel it’s rather formulaic, and I hate redberry juice – for some reason both main protagonists refused alcohol, and the author likes to remind us of that fact way too often.
What do I like? The fact that we get to witness two thousand years of history, see how adventures become legends and myths. Many concepts are intriguing and some of the heroes are even likeable.
But it also feels so simplistic, with wooden, uninspiring dialogues and characters that are driven not internally, but by the demands of the plot. The great philosophical/magical conflict is told, not shown, and I felt I actually got too many details, too soon. Sanderson is much more subtle with his systems of magic – and that’s telling something! And, despite the promise of something that would go beyond simple good vs. evil, it’s been just that so far, with evil Chaos wizards fighting the good ones that serve the Order. With some neutral Grey wizards in the mix, that ultimately support the good guys.
A quote that just made me laugh out loud, and I assume for different reasons than author wanted me to:
Klerris snorts. ‘He doesn’t even know he’s a Black, and he’s tied to a Grey who thinks she’s a White’
Towers if Sunset p. 199
In one of the books, our hero is given a special book by his father. We know it’s crucial that he reads it, multiple people tell him to read it, but somehow he never has time nor will to do it. Until plot demands he knows more about its topic. He gets smart – in this and other areas – not when his experience warrants it, but when Modesitt needs him to. It seemed so artificial to me.
Another complaint… I know people have to eat, and also clothe themselves, at least in the civilized society, but the endless enumerations of food and garments I find boring. Haggling with innkeepers quickly gets repetitive, and usually serves no purpose. It’s a bit like a record of a RPG session, not a dynamic novel where each scene should serve some bigger purpose.
This was not an ordeal, but when I need a bit of traditional, uncomplicated fantasy, I’ll choose Feist or Williams before Modesitt.
Score, after two books: 6/10