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Mage-Guard of Hamor (Saga of Recluce) by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Cover Artist: Darrell K. Sweet
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765319272
Date: 22 July 2008 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

It is always a pleasure to find another book by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Even when he's writing fantasy, he brings a rationalist turn of mind to the task, and his long-running Saga of Recluce is no exception. Recluce is an island on a world where magic takes the classic form of order versus chaos, except that the two are clearly kin to concepts familiar from physics. Chaos, for instance, is like entropy; when a chaos-mage releases a bolt of chaos-fire, it vaporizes whomever the bolt hits, maximizing entropy. Order is pattern, and some of Modesitt's order-mages have clearly been sensing the bonds (hooks) between molecules and atoms. Indeed, when the black wizards of Recluce forge iron they infuse it with order (extra hooks) to give it strength. Not surprisingly, those who can manipulate order or chaos (only rarely can anyone handle both) are highly valued. Once identified, they are assessed and trained and sent where they will be of most use. Recluce favors order, and chaos-talents are exiled. So are order-talents who cannot be trained.

In Natural Ordermage, we met Rahl, a scrivener (scribe) with just enough order-talent to get into trouble and draw the attention of the local mages, who ship him off to Nylan, where he is judged to be a natural ordermage. Quite untrainable, a danger to have around. So they train him in clerkship, teach him Hamorian, and ship him off to Hamor, a dictatorship that has a rather no-nonsense attitude toward order and chaos: Both are valuable but they must be kept in balance.

Rahl starts off as a clerk, spots certain irregularities, and winds up shipped off to the mines, where his talents draw attention and his training begins. Before long, he's a real mage, serving as a Hamorian city cop, uncovering and putting paid to a nasty plot, and looking like a hero. He's also ripe for further training.

Mage-Guard of Hamor opens as Rahl and his mentor, Taryl, a much more powerful mage who was once a member of the Triad of mages who balanced Hamor's political structure, are taking a warning of the plot and its ramifications to Recluce. While there, Rahl touches base with Debryi, the healer who is his heart's desire. At the same time, Taryl is assigning him exercises designed to help strengthen his talents. The reason why is soon clear, for there is rebellion in the provinces, Taryl sees great potential in Rahl (though he never comes right out and says so), and when Taryl is assigned to play a major role in bringing the rebels to heel, Rahl goes off as his aide. Sounds like more physics, doesn't it? The concept of the lever. A little more subtle than brute force, and yes, much less exhausting to use. As good an idea for an emperor or governor as for a mage. And Rahl still nearly kills himself several times before the rebellion has been properly smashed. But he doesn't. He survives to face the question of what he will do with the rest of his life. He's much too powerful to go back to Recluce, or to return to his life as a city cop. Modesitt answers the question very satisfactorily, even folding in such loose ends as Deybri, and the book ends with as solid a sense of closure as any reader could ask. There are no hints of a sequel, and none is needed.

But… The Saga of Recluce already has fifteen books in it! I doubt very much that there won't be more, Rahl is a delightful character who still has more to learn about himself and about controlling his power, and Hamor offers a lot more potential for excitement, as well as for promotions for a hero. I'll be a happy reader if Modesitt decides to give Rahl another book or two.

If you visit his website, you'll see that his immediate plans do not include a return to Recluce or Hamor. His next few books will be The Lord Protector's Daughter, Haze, two volumes of a new fantasy series, The Imager Portfolio, and a new Corean Chronicles book. I'm looking forward to them all!

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