Sunday, December 16, 2007

Natural Ordermage, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

Natural Ordermage
L. E. Modesitt, Jr
Tor: 2007

After fourteen Recluse novels a fair criticism that can be leveled at Modesitt is that he repeats himself. There is a certain amount of formula to his novel length fiction. A young man, apprenticed to some trade, finds out that he has some sort of talent with Order Magic (it is almost always Order), is brought to the rulers of his land, and ends up exiled to another land. Sound familiar? In this case the young man in question is named Rahl. He is an apprentice scrivener (a scribe, he copies books by hand because printing has not caught on yet) and while he knows he has some Order skills, he does not think he has many. He uses his talents to seduce a woman and this gets him in trouble and brought to the attention of the magisters of Recluse at Land’s End. They send him to Nylan where Rahl is told that he is a Natural Ordermage. Meaning he is skilled with Order Magic but he feels his way through the magic, rather than being able to learn through books or lecture.

The twist here is that unlike, say, Lerris, Rahl believes that nothing is ever his fault and he is angry that nobody explains things to him even though he doesn’t understand when people try to explain. So, basically, he’s something of a typical teenager, though I picture Rahl as being somewhat older than that. What this accomplishes is that Rahl is moderately unlikeable from the start because the reader (or just me) wants him to just take responsibility and he doesn’t.

He is sent to Hamor to work as a clerk in a trading company for a year (or a season, I can’t remember which) and then he is on his own and will be welcome back in Recluse whenever he is able to demonstrate control of his Order talent. He quickly discovers that the leading factor at the Nylan Mercantile Exchange is dishonest and cheating and while he does not act against the factor he is attacked and wakes up a season later with no memory and on a work gang.

Having the novel set in Hamor is nice change of pace because Hamor has always been the Evil Empire of the series and not at all understood. This gives the reader a chance to see and learn something new about this world of Modesitt’s. I understand that Modesitt wanted or needed to get Rahl from simply being a clerk with limited understanding of his talent to eventually work for Hamor in their Mage-Guards. The next novel is called, after all, The Mage-Guard of Hamor. That’s fine. But was it absolutely necessary to use the memory loss / work gang plot device again? Modesitt did this in either The Magic of Recluse or The Towers of the Sunset. I’m almost positive it was in The Towers of the Sunset and while it worked at that time, now it feels like a complete rehash. Basically Modesitt opens Natural Ordermage with a dash of The Magic of Recluse and follows it with a plot device of The Towers of the Sunset and it becomes frustrating that the author is cribbing wholesale from his earlier novels. The two freshest things Modesitt has done in the entire series was to have a couple of novels told from the perspective of a Chaos Mage (who is later revealed to be a Grey Mage and not strictly white) and to have the guy from The Wellspring of Chaos to be an adult and not be an immature young man. Sometimes I wished Rahl would get hit with a Chaos bolt when he wasn’t paying attention.

From reading over the last four paragraphs I can see how one get the perspective that I didn’t like Natural Ordermage and that I would think it is not worth the time. Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed Natural Ordermage quite a bit. Yes, Modesitt repeats himself (and this has nothing to do with there being a limited number of basic plots, Modesitt uses the same techniques from book to book and they feel like the same novel. Pawn of Prophecy from David Eddings may use the same basic plotline as other novels, but we can tell that it was Eddings and not Modesitt who told that story). See, I’m doing it again. I read The Towers of the Sunset years and years ago and loved it and have since enjoyed the other Recluse novels. If you read too many of them back to back they will start to all run together, but give a year or so in between Recluse novels and what you are left with is an enjoyable yet familiar feeling novel where bad things happen to some good people and trying to do good can be as punishing as doing evil, but in the end the moral thing wins out at great cost.

Natural Ordermage is not very different from other Recluse novels, but if you liked the other ones you’ll like this one. If you haven’t read Recluse, start with either The Magic of Recluse or The Towers of the Sunset and work your way gradually to this one. Natural Ordermage is a decent Recluse novel, and it helps to fill in some gaps of understanding, but outside of setting foot on Hamor, this novel doesn’t do anything that the first thirteen didn’t do first.

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