Fairhaven Rising

Between 2017 and 2019, L. E. Modesitt, jr. released Beltur's story arc in three installments; The Mongrel Mage, Outcasts of Order, and The Mage-Fire War. And though I enjoyed the novels, there's no denying that the plot was padded with a lot of filler material. Beltur's tale and the creation of Fairhaven were worthy additions to the Recluce canon, yet I felt that it would have worked better as the habitual two-installment Recluce project.

Splitting this arc into three separate volumes probably explained why The Mongrel Mage did not stand as well on its own compared to previous entries in the Recluce saga. As expected, given that the manuscript was never meant to be split into two books, Outcasts of Order did suffer from middle book syndrome and it felt a bit incongruous compared to its predecessors.

Still, The Mage-Fire War brought this latest Recluce arc to a satisfying end. One that raised as many questions as the answers it provided. 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 would undoubtedly have profound repercussions on the young man and those he cared for. And it was obvious that Taelya's own storyline had barely begun, with a lot more in store for her in the coming years. Back then, I wondered if she'd be the main protagonist in Modesitt's next Recluce offering. Looks like the author wasted no time writing what came next!

Here's the blurb:

Modesitt continues his bestselling Saga of Recluce with his twenty-second book in the long-running series. Fairhaven Rising follows The Mage-Fire War.

Sixteen years have passed since the mage Beltur helped to found the town of Fairhaven, and Taelya, Beltur's adopted niece, is now a white mage undercaptain in the Road Guards of Fairhaven.

Fairhaven's success under the Council has become an impediment to the ambition of several rulers, and the mages protecting the town are seen as a threat.

Taelya, a young and untried mage, will find herself at the heart of a conspiracy to destroy her home and the people she loves, and she may not be powerful enough to stop it in time.

As always, the worldbuilding is one of the most fascinating aspects of any new Recluce offering. Like many other historical figures, though his tale has yet to be told in full, Beltur has already left his own indelible mark upon the Recluce timeline. Modesitt continues to explore the relationship between Order and Chaos. As Beltur and Jessyla did more than a decade before, Taelya trains to become a battlefield healer as well as a warrior, and we learn more about Chaos, Order, and the manners in which they can both be used for healing and for fighting. Speaking of Taelya, it's evident that, like Beltur and Jessyla, she will have her own part to play as Fairhaven grows and welcomes more mages. And given the foreshadowing Modesitt provided in the previous three novels, it appears that the future may not be all that bright for the woman she'll become. It will also be interesting to see how her future storyline will shine some light on how a city founded by Black Mages will some day become a bastion held by the Whites. But Fairhaven Rising focuses on the early years of that city, as Beltur, Taelya, and every other citizen must come together to thwart a conspiracy that would see Fairhaven destroyed by outside forces which have come to envy its growth with each passing year.

Beltur was never an easy protagonist to root for. He probably always knew that the price to pay would be higher than they ever envisioned, but refused to accept that fact. In The Mage-Fire War, it dawned upon him that they would never be left alone as long as the duke of Hydlen could send troopers and wizards against them. And though it went against everything he was and believed in, Beltur had no choice but to be utterly ruthless if Fairhaven stood a chance of ever establishing itself. The ending, in particular, was as surprising as it was uncompromising. Given her difficult upbringing and the death of her father when she was just a child, Taelya, though she doesn't realize it yet, is made of stronger stuff than her uncle and shows a more unbending nature. A do-gooder at heart, the sacrifices she is forced to make in Fairhaven Rising will indubitably change her and I'm curious to see what comes next for her and Fairhaven itself. In many ways, her tale follows Beltur's footsteps, and as such may not have been as original as it could have been. With many returning familiar faces, the supporting cast is engaging, chief among them Tulya, Jessyla, Beltur, and their children, Kaeryla, Althaal, and Dorylt. There is also Gustaan, a captain of the Fairhaven Guard, and Varais, a former Westwind guard. I understand that these books are about emancipation and female empowerment, but I found Valchar and Sheralt to be petulant and lacking backbones when dealing with the Taelya and Kaeryla. They acted more like sullen teenagers than young men training for war. Then again, maturity in younger men, especially when dealing with the fairer sex, is never a given.

L. E. Modesitt's works are never fast-paced affairs and this is true for Fairhaven Rising as well. With the groundwork laid out by the last three books, the author needed less time to establish the various storylines and protagonists. But again, you then have to 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, this new novel followed the classic Recluce recipe that long-time fans know so well. Hence, not surprisingly, Fairhaven Rising suffers from pacing issues. And sadly, as was the case with the three Beltur installments, there was not enough material to warrant a full novel and Modesitt's latest is padded with lots of extraneous and often superfluous scenes that are totally unnecessary. There are so many scenes featuring characters currying their horses, cleaning the stables, preparing and then eating countless meals, etc. It's obvious that Fairhaven Rising is just the first chapter in Taelya's tale, but in and of itself couldn't fill an entire book.

In the end, Fairhaven Rising is far from perfect. But regardless of its shortcomings, Taelya's story arc should please most Recluce fans out there. I just wish that the novel had been more self-contained. That's four Recluce offerings in a row that don't quite live up to the standards established by past standalone titles and two-volume sequences. Here's to hoping that subsequent installments will be a return to form.

The final verdict: 7/10

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