"You're a black mage."
"Yes, but I was trained as white. I saw a lot of death and never knew enough about healing."
"A mage and healer. That's ... rare."
"There are a few. I'm just learning."
"Your healer wife is also a mage? That's ... rare."
"The Council ... doesn't like you."
"The Council doesn't like paying for things."
"You're a ... very powerful mage."
"I just move bits of free order around and always add some to wounds."
"You like to always do the right thing ... don't you?"
"I try to."
Sigh. "Hold this and try not to screw it up."
"I can do that."
I'm sorry to say that the above invented dialogue conveys about 75% of the story of Outcasts of Order. Beltur essentially has the same conversation over and over and over again with different characters. And then he tells his wife about having had the conversation, in detail. And then he tells his friends about telling his wife about having had the conversation. In detail. He and virtually everyone else explain things at the drop of a hat - but it's almost always the same things: how he got where he is, how he was trained as a white mage, how he's worried about not earning enough, and how, yes, he's a healer mage, and yes, they're very rare. The repetition is leavened only by contemplation of some fairly broad social lessons along the "Do unto others..." line.
Modesitt's Recluce novels have always essentially been the same story, about the same character type, a collection of verbal tics, and some valuable life lessons. It's worked because it's an appealing character type, the life lessons are positive, and there's an intriguing backstory. Unfortunately, this time (or at this point), Modesitt is carrying the formula too far, and no one has bothered to edit him. There's a decent story here, but it could and should have been told in 200 pages, instead of well over 600 of excruciating minutiae. Modesitt seems to search out mundane things to tell us. At one point, Beltur and Jessyla are entering a new city with a pack mule of goods. He tells the guard he has “Personal goods, inspector. Blankets, clothing, a few cooking pieces, some bedding . . .” The guard replies “That seems . . . strange.” No, it doesn't. It's absolutely normal material for a traveler to carry..
By the midpoint of the book, we've heard the same conversations and explanations dozens of times; there's nothing new to learn from them, and the verbal tics are just getting annoying. (No one ever answers a request with "Yes"; it's always "I can do that.") There are also some basic continuity errors - for example, he sets a dislocated shoulder, but 200 pages later, has never seen one.
Beltur's rectitude - required of him by his black-mage nature - is also strikingly flexible. He's all about doing the right thing, but is somehow able to kill annoying, unthreatening people without a qualm. He bends over backward when challenged by 'good' people, but is pretty easily riled by 'bad' people. There's also more than one would hope of a Robert Jordan-y 'women are wise and wonderful' feel, and a tendency to segregate men's and women's work. There's nominally a lot of forging going on, but all it seems to take is a bellows, some melted copper, and a heated form. It goes remarkably quickly.
I still enjoy the world of Recluce, but this latest book, at least, was stretched far beyond its breaking point. Perhaps the silver lining is that a reader could dip in just once every ten pages or so, and miss very, very little, because it's all being repeated all the time anyway.
I received a free copy of this
book in exchange for an honest review.