Outcasts of Order

Modesitt fans got spoiled in 2017 with two different Recluce books published; Recluce Tales and The Mongrel Mage. And although the 19th installment in the saga, this one also the opening chapter in a much bigger tale, was a good read, it felt as though the novel was not as self-contained as other similar Recluce offerings. Back then, I believed that The Mongrel Mage was the beginning of a brand new story arc, the first book in what would likely be another two-volume sequence. But it turns out that Beltur has a big story to tell. L. E. Modesitt, jr. tried to write this story arc in his habitual two-book format, yet the manuscripts soon reached a size that made it impossible for Tor Books to release them as a pair of novels.

Hence, the decision was made to split Beltur's tale into three separate installments. Which explained why The Mongrel Mage did not stand as well on its own as I expected. And now my fear was that Outcasts of Order would suffer from the middle book syndrome. Given the fact that there was never meant to be a second volume, I was afraid that all the good stuff and resolution would take place in the final chapter of the cycle and that this new Recluce offering would act as some sort of interlude. And now that I've read it, it did feel a bit incongruous compared to its predecessors.

Here's the blurb:

Modesitt continues his bestselling Saga of Recluce with his 20th book in the long-running series. Beltur began his journey in The Mongrel Mage and continues with Outcasts of Order, the next book of his story arc in the Saga of Recluce.

Beltur, an Order mage, discovers he possesses frightening powers not seen for hundreds of years. With his new abilities, he survives the war in Elparta and saves the lives of all. However, victory comes with a price. His fellow mages now see him as a threat to be destroyed, and the local merchants want to exploit his power.

There’s only one way he can remain free and survive—he’s going to have to run.

Personally, I've always felt that the worldbuilding was one of the most fascinating aspects of these new Recluce books. It's too early to tell how Beltur's story will fit in the greater scheme of things, yet I'm looking forward to discovering how he'll leave his own indelible mark upon the Recluce timeline. In The Mongrel Mage, we did learn a lot about Elparta. This continues in Outcasts of Order and we discover more about Axalt and Montgren. And while 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.

As a matter of course, Modesitt continues to explore the relationship between Order and Chaos, one of the trademarks of this series. In Cyador's Heirs and Heritage of Cyador, being able to manipulate both Order and Chaos forced Lerial to test the limits of what he could do, often with unanticipated results. The same goes for Beltur. Although trained as a White Mage, he soon finds out that he's more Black than he ever thought possible. This strange dichotomy doesn't sit well with some of his newfound allies, hence the nickname of mongrel mage. The unexpected discovery that Taelya, daughter of a Black Mage, has the potential of becoming a very powerful White Mage forces Beltur to teach her what he knows before she can hurt herself.

As was the case in The Mongrel Mage, the characterization would have benefited from more POV protagonists. In the last Recluce story arc, Lerial, a teenager with an inquisitive mind, was a sympathetic protagonist which was easy to root for. Although his heart is always in the right place, Beltur can be dense at times and he's not as endearing as Lerial turned out to be. Still, having grown on me over the course of a novel already, Beltur is easier to root for in this sequel. Once again, the supporting cast is particularly engaging, chief among them the baker mage Meldryn, the Healers Margrena and her daughter Jessyla, Jorhan the smith, as well as Lhadoraak and his wife and daughter.

Modesitt's novels are never fast-paced affairs and The Mongrel Mage was no exception to that rule. As was the case in every Recluce installment, the author needed time to establish the various plotlines. 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, The Mongrel Mage followed the classic Recluce recipe and long-time fans end up with another compelling read. Problem is, Outcasts of Order is a middle book and offers nothing in the way of resolution. So yes, the pace can be an issue at times. Its predecessor was an introduction, and this second installment builds on those plotlines to bridge the gap between the events chronicled within the pages of The Mongrel Mage and the finale to come in the final volume. To a certain extent, Outcasts of Order was only meant to give Beltur the opportunity to train more and get more powerful, and to ultimately get the characters to Montgren, where it's now evident Beltur and company will leave their mark upon the history of Recluce.

And though it suffered from middle book syndrome, Outcasts of Order nevertheless sets the stage for what should be an interesting endgame. I'm curious to see how Beltur will make history and what obstacles he'll have to overcome in order to do so.

The final verdict: 7/10

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