The Mage-Fire War


Back in 2017, I believed that The Mongrel Mage marked the beginning of a brand new story arc, the first book in what would likely be another two-volume Recluce sequence. Yet it turned out that Beltur had a much bigger story to tell. L. E. Modesitt, jr. tried to write this story arc in his habitual two-book format, but the manuscripts soon reached a size that made it impossible for Tor Books to release them as a pair of novels.

The decision was made to split Beltur's tale into three separate installments. This probably explains why The Mongrel Mage did not stand as well on its own as I expected. My fear was that the sequel, Outcasts of Order, would suffer from the middle book syndrome. Given the fact that there was never meant to be a second volume, it did feel a bit incongruous compared to its predecessors.

Which is why I was looking forward to reading The Mage-Fire War. And though I enjoyed the novel, there's no denying that the plot is padded with a lot of filler material to increase the pagecount. Beltur's tale and the creation of Fairhaven are worthy addition to the Recluce canon, no doubt about it. And yet, I feel that it would have worked better as the habitual two-installment Recluce project.

Here's the blurb:

L. E. Modesitt, Jr., continues his bestselling Saga of Recluce with The Mage-Fire War, the third book in a story arc which began with The Mongrel Mage and Outcasts of Order.

Once again, prejudices against the use of chaos magic force Beltur and his companions to flee their refuge in Axalt. The rulers of nearby Montgren have offered them sanctuary and the opportunity to become the Councilors of the run-down and disintegrating town of Haven.

Montegren lacks any mages—white or black—making this seem like the perfect opportunity to start again.

However, Beltur and the others must reinstitute law and order, rebuild parts of the town, deal with brigands—and thwart an invading army.

The worldbuilding is always one of the most fascinating facets of these new Recluce novels. Like several other historical figures, it's evident that Beltur will leave his own indelible mark upon the Recluce timeline. As is usually his wont, Modesitt explores the relationship between Order and Chaos, one of the trademarks of this series. As Beltur trains as a healer and as he trains both Jessyla and young Taelya, we do learn a lot about Chaos, Order, and the manner in which they can both be used for healing and for fighting. Speaking of Taelya, I'm curious to see if she'll get her own story arc in a future Recluce installment. It's obvious that, like Beltur and Jessyla, this girl will have her part to play as Fairhaven grows and welcomes more mages. And given the foreshadowing Modesitt provided in these last three novels, it appears that the future may not be all that bright for the woman she'll become. I also have a feeling that her future storyline may shine some light on how a city founded by Black Mages will some day become a bastion held by the Whites.

Having grown on me over the course of the last two books, Beltur is easier to root for in this final volume. He probably always knew that the price to pay would be higher than they ever envisioned but refused to accept that fact. Be that as it may, in The Mage-Fire War it dawns upon him that they will never be left alone as long as the duke of Hydlen can send troopers and wizards against them. And though it goes against everything he is and believes in, Beltur has no choice but to be utterly ruthless if Fairhaven stands a chance of ever establishing itself. The ending, in particular, was as surprising as it was uncompromising. Once again, the supporting cast is particularly engaging, chief among them Jessyla, as well as Lhadoraak and his wife Tulya and their young daughter.

L. E. Modesitt's works are never fast-paced affairs and The Mongrel Mage was no exception to that rule. The author needed time to establish the various storylines and protagonists. Once done, you then follow the main character as he or she must learn, experiment, and puzzle out ways to escape a number of predicaments before the endgame can take place. In that respect, that novel followed the classic Recluce recipe and long-time fans ended up with another compelling read. Trouble is, as a middle book Outcasts of Order offered nothing in the way of resolution. To a certain extent, the second installment was only meant to give Beltur the opportunity to train more and get more powerful, and to ultimately get the characters to Montgren, where Beltur and company will leave their mark upon the history of Recluce. Not surprisingly, The Mage-Fire War suffers from pacing issues. Essentially, this final volume is meant to feature the series' endgame and the finale, with a number of armed conflicts in between as troops from Hydlen invade Montgren and try to capture Haven. Unfortunately, there was not enough material for a full novel and The Mage-Fire War is padded with lots of extraneous and often superfluous scenes that are totally unnecessary. I mean, did we really need to see Beltur clean the stables this often, or the preparation of so many meals, etc. In the end, though it would have made for two big novels, as I mentioned I feel that Beltur's tale would have worked better as another two-volume sequence.

Still, Beltur's story and the creation of Fairhaven was another satisfying Recluce arc. One that raises as many questions as the answers it provides. As mentioned, the enormous price paid for Beltur's unforgiving response in the hope to end this war and engender long-term peace to allow Haven to grow will undoubtedly have profound repercussions on the young man and those he cares for. And it's obvious that Taelya's own storyline has barely begun, with a lot more in store for her in the coming years. It will be interesting to see if she'll be the main protagonist in Modesitt's next Recluce offering.

Ultimately, regardless of its shortcomings, The Mage-Fire War will please Recluce fans who are eagerly awaiting the resolution of this story arc. Twenty-one books into the saga, with no sign that it might be slowing down any time soon, this bodes well for the future. Here's to hoping that L. E. Modesitt, jr. still has more Recluce surprises in store for his readers.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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