A big fan of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Recluce saga for over two decades, it was with pleasure that I read the latest Recluce installment, Heritage of Cyador. This is the second volume in a two-part cycle chronicling the faith of the survivors of the fall of Cyador, having now re-established themselves in the small country of Cigoerne on the continent of Hamor. It begins just a few months following the events which marked the end of the previous novel, Cyador's Heirs. And as such, it's not a good jumping point for new readers wishing to get acquainted with the series. Indeed, this one is for long-time Recluce fans only.
As was the case with its predecessor, Heritage of Cyador helps flesh out the societies of Hamor, focusing on the events and the people that left an indelible mark on the continent's history. On the other hand, in style and tone this second installment is more a military fantasy offering, what with the entire novel dealing with the threat of the Heldyan invasion and the repercussions a victory by the foreign monarch would have on both Afrit and Cigoerne.
Here's the blurb:
From New York Times bestselling author L.E. Modesitt comes Heritage of Cyador, the new novel in the Saga of Recluce. Scarcely a year after the events of Cyador’s Heirs, Lerial uses his mastery of Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape his world and define the magic that exists within it, to utterly destroy an Afritan military force crossing into Cigoerne. Five years later, Lerial, now an overcaptain and a field commander of Cigoerne’s Mirror Lancers, must lead three companies of troops into Afrit on a mission of mutual interest: neighboring Heldya is threatening to invade Afrit, and if that nation falls, Cigoerne is certain to be next. The mission is both delicate and dangerous; Lerial’s value in the effort to repelling Heldya is undeniable, but his troubled history against Afrit may reopen old wounds that will never truly heal.
Worldbuilding always plays a big role in any Recluce book and it's no different in this one. In Cyador's Heirs, I really enjoyed how Modesitt filled in the many blanks and elaborated on how the late Empress brought the surviving Mirror Lancers, the Magi'i, and other survivors into the last fireship and fled Cyador to establish themselves in what would one eventually become Cigoerne. Heritage of Cyador focuses on Lerial and his troops as they try to help stave off the Heldyan invasion without sacrifing too many of his men. Moreover, as the son of Duke Kiedron and a superior military commander in his own right, he must do his best not to ruffle any feathers, both among the Afritan officers and the members of the nobility. And yet, the more time he spends defending first Luba and then Swartheld, the more Lerial discovers that the wealthy merchanter class could well be the worst threat to Afrit, not Heldya. Amid betrayal and corruption allegations, it appears that all is lost and it's up to Lerial, a stranger in a strange land, to find a way to help turn the tide.
The author continues to explore the relationship between Order and Chaos, one of the trademarks of this saga. Being able to manipulate both Order and Chaos forces Lerial to test the limits of what he can do, often with shocking results. With no one to teach him, Lerial, obviously a Gray Mage, must push himself like never before, and thus put his life on the line in an attempt to prevent Swartheld, and the rest of Afrit, from falling to the enemy. Unfortunately, we don't learn as much as I would have liked about Lerial's growing abilities. With overwhelming odds stacked against him at every turn, Lerial is forced to react and try to save himself and his men, often coming out of the ordeal with his own life hanging by a thread.
In terms of characterization, Lerial understandably takes center stage. With feminism and the emancipation of women being two important Recluce themes, Haesychya, Duke Atroyan's Consort, and Kyedra, their daughter, also have big roles to play in this book. Emerya, a powerful Healer and Lerial's aunt, is another key protagonist. As far as the Afritan military is concerned, Rhamuel, Arms-Commander of Afrit, is the only one that truly stands out amidst all the corrupted or inept officers.
Modesitt's books are never fast-paced affairs and Heritage of Cyador is no exception. The Recluce recipe is simple: you follow the main character as he or she must learn, experiment, and puzzle out ways to escape a number of predicaments before the finale. In that respect, the 18th volume in the saga follows Modesitt's Recluce recipe like its predecessors and long-time fans end up with a another satisfying read. Having said that, I must point out that you can pretty much see the end coming from the middle part of the novel. You can't tell exactly how it will come about, but everything points in that direction. That was a bit of a disappointment, as the author habitually keeps his card closer to his chest and does a better job concealing what he has in store for his readers. That doesn't necessarily take anything away from the overall reading experience, but it does rob Heritage of Cyador of any kind of "punch" to cap off the ending of the book.
When all is said and done, Heritage of Cyador is another quality read by L. E. Modesitt, jr. Intelligent, thoughtful, action-packed, and entertaining without any unnecessary bells and whistles, once more this is adult fantasy by an author in perfect control of his craft and his universe.