There is nothing wrong with the well-worn theme of this book, a classic “underdog, young orphaned boy is raised in the country, dirt poor, who slowly discovers his own great magical talent, and is destined for greatness, but who must suffer the slings and arrows and indignities visited upon him by privileged and ultimately less talented bullies who underestimate his powers to their own detriment” coming-of-age tale, which is one of my favourite kinds of books. I just did not think it particularly well done, or at least, particularly excitingly done.
Fans of Modesitt’s Recluce Saga (of which this is one installment) clearly do not enjoy these books for the beautiful writing or the psychological depth of characters or the profound philosophical insights. This is, in other words, pulp fantasy through and through. Perhaps the previous books would allow the reader to enjoy this one more because it answers many questions apparently about the “evil” White wizards that previous books left unsaid, and indeed I did find many questions in this book that were also left hanging (presumably for later books), even though the back cover does describe it as being able to stand alone perfectly well.
The story is rather tedious and the pacing is tepid, and though it does eventually result in an action-packed climax, the slow parts are not there because they are full of finely crafted writing and character-building. They are merely unexciting. Even the climax is routine, and the hero never seems to be in any real danger throughout. The moments of action and excitement and revelation are rather thin on the ground. There was a notable lack of humour among the characters, too, and they did not have much depth. I also noticed a peculiar aspect of Modesitt’s style: he ends almost every single chapter on a down note. There are no cliff-hanger chapter endings in the entire book and that impacted negatively on the “page-turning” aspect for me.
Modesitt’s system of magic, however, is well thought out and rather scientific in its principles. This might endear it to fans of science fiction rather than of Tolkienesque fantasy. I found that it was not “magical” enough, but more suited, perhaps, to what you might expect from a fantasy computer game. This may count in its favour for some people, but I found it a tad dry. It was like a bunch of commandos running around whose machine guns and grenades had been replaced by fire-balls and lasers. Even the invisibility magic was described in a pedestrian way.
I would rather recommend the books of David Eddings’ first series, The Belgariad, as examples of five star kick-ass action, humour, romance, magical adventure, and coming-of-age page-turners. The White Order may do in a pinch if you are stuck for something over a weekend since it is not very bad, just underwhelming....Continua