Looking for a pastiche of Roger Zelazny stories? Take equal parts Amber, Lord of Light, Jack of Shadows, and Creatures of Light and Darkness, and blend well together. Add a dash of Recluce, and serve lukewarm.
To be fair, L.E. Modesitt has written his own stories about gods and superstition, touching on the subjects in – at the least – Timegod and The Parafaith War, so this story isn’t exactly foreign territory. But the extent to which he appears to draw on Zelazny is striking – from the protagonist’s name (Corvyn to Zelazny’s Corwin), to his power with shadows (see Jack of Shadows), to the backstory (Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness). Modesitt is generally inventive enough to hold his own, but I wasn’t more than a few pages into this book before I decided it was either homage to Zelazny or a blatant rip-off. By the end, I still wasn’t sure which.
Originality aside, the story has substantial drawbacks. Most of it is a travelogue among cities and ‘villages of belief’, which are essentially competing religious communities based on Earth beliefs. The surface the action takes place on is only vaguely described. For most of the book, I assumed it was an orbital, but there are suggestions it’s a planet – which is problematic, since Corvyn travels around most of it on a moped. A map would have helped. The backstory for the whole book is only vaguely hinted it, which is a shame, because it’s the strongest part of the book, and is only revealed – largely in passing – at the end. The Goodreads blurb for this book has more structural info than the book itself does.
There’s a lot that’s vaguely hinted at, and in fact the bulk of the book consists of a) travelogue, b) menu description (Corvyn eats in detail), and c) vague hints. Even when the hints are resolved, it tends to be in casual mentions. It’s doesn’t come across as subtlety and understatement so much as the author forgetting that this is an Important Reveal that the book has been Leading Up To. Every statement is hedged and so much information is intentionally withheld that it becomes frustrating to read, especially when the reveal is passed by without notice. Modesitt gets so carried away with this withholding that he forgets to provide us with adequate context, occasionally bringing in actors we don’t know of.
There’s also, unfortunately, a good deal of the repetition that has plagued recent Modesitt books. Just as in the latest Recluce books, we hear over and over again about the rarity of mage healers, in this book, Corvyn hands over his ID card to the same comments, over and over and over. He spends much of the book discussing broad philosophy with one religious leader after another, to no apparent purpose. It’s like a series of freshman seminars with no guiding purpose. By the halfway point, the book had become tedious, and soon after, I’d become quite tired of it. It was difficult to finish. A bonus, I suppose, is that – apart from books I already have, I think I’m finished with Modesitt as well.
If you’re really, really a fan of Modesitt’s recent books, you may enjoy this. But if you’re looking for Zelazny’s voice and ideas… read Zelazny.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.