From the Forest

From the Forest is the 23rd installment in L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Recluce Saga. Which is quite something, as many fans feel that there is so much to this universe and its history that we still know very little or nothing about. I was hoping that this would be a return to the author's usual two-book sequence. In my opinion, this is the length that suits Recluce story arcs the best. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this latest arc wouldn't be split into 3 volumes, as was the case with Beltur's tale. No, it appears that Tor Books were loath to release Alayiakal's story as three lengthy novels, which prompted Modesitt to split it into four books. I'm a bit concerned about this turn of events, for such a split ultimately had a negative impact on the Beltur sequence. Indeed, both Outcasts of Order and The Mage-Fire War were padded with lots of extraneous and often superfluous scenes that were totally unnecessary. Time will tell if that will be the case for From the Forest and its sequels.

It may feel as though you've already read the opening chapters of this newest Recluce novel. You're not going crazy, have no fear. The start of From the Forest is a retelling of the short story "The Forest Girl" first seen in the collection of short fiction Recluce Tales, which was published a few years back. It establishes that young Alayiakal is linked to the Great Forest, though he doesn't understand how or why. His name might sound familiar even if you haven't read that short story. From bits found in Magi'i of Cyador, we already know that Alayiakal will somehow make his way up and become Emperor of the Land of Eternal Light. And yet, though his accomplishments and memory should be revered, he has become the "One Never to be Mentioned" among the Magi'i and Mirror Lancers of Cyad. Hence, it will be interesting to follow this simple man's rise to power and glory.

Here's the blurb:

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. continues the Saga of Recluce, the long-running, best-selling epic fantasy series. In a new story arc, From the Forest follows the early life of a man known by many names depending on who you ask—hero, tyrant, emperor.

Alayiakal, who will one day be known by many names —not all of them flattering—has to climb the ranks of Cyador’s Mirror Lancers, fighting against unforeseen weapons and ancient technology.

Alayiakal, however, has secrets of his own to protect: his ties to the Great Forest and his magus abilities. He must silently pretend to be a conventional soldier favored by fate—until that very same fate forces him to choose.

As far as I'm concerned, the worldbuilding is always one of the most fascinating aspects of any new Recluce novel. Each tale allows readers to discover how people and events shaped history during their lifetime. From the Forest is by far the earliest installment in the Recluce timeline. Indeed, the action takes place in the year 92 after the founding of Cyad. That's more than three centuries before Magi'i of Cyador and Scion of Cyador, and more than seven centuries before Fall of Angels. Perhaps one day we'll get the full tale of their arrival from the Rational Stars, but for now we'll have to be satisfied with the glimpses from the past this new cycle will offer. How the wall and the wards that contain the Accursed Forest were built, how the chaos towers and all the technological wonders that can no longer be duplicated by the Magi'i and the Mirror Engineers were created, how chaos could be harnessed in such a fashion merely decades before, all of these secrets remain mysteries for the time being. Yet I have a feeling that Alayiakal will discover the truth behind some of them over the course of these four books.

Understandably, Modesitt continues to explore the relationship between Order and Chaos, one of the trademarks of this series. Like Lerial and Beltur, being able to manipulate both Order and Chaos forces Alayiakal to test the limits of what he can do, often with shocking results. Secretly trained to become a White Mage but released because he's not powerful enough, he soon finds out that he's more Black than he thought. This allows him to learn some basic Healing before starting his training as a Mirror Lancer officer. He is told to keep this to himself, as this strange dichotomy wouldn't sit well with some of his fellow soldiers and especially his superiors.

There is something soothing about reading a new Recluce book. Yes, they all follow the same formula. I once claimed that Modesitt is like the band AC/DC. If you like one of their albums, you like them all. It's pretty much the same with the Recluce Saga. Smart, thoughtful, and entertaining without any of the bells and whistles so prevalent in epic fantasy these days, this is adult fantasy by an author who remains in perfect control of his craft and his universe. Either you like it or you don't. Going into a new Recluce tale, I always know what to expect to a certain extent. But although the recipe is always the same, the ingredients differ and sometimes the author uses our own preconceptions to pull the rug from under our feet when we least expect it. And twenty-three volumes into this series, I'm still as interested as I was when I first read The Magic of Recluce three decades ago.

From the Forest follows the early years of the training and the first posting of Alayiakal. As the son of an officer without any political or financial clout, the capable young man is sent to make a name for himself against the northern barbarians. It's the sort of post that will either get you promoted if you survive or killed before long. Undermanned and with little supplies, it's up to Alayiakal and his fellow Mirror Lancers to somehow protect Cyad's northern border from raids by savages. Secretly using his powers to help keep himself and the men under his command safe, his exploits will ultimately see him get promoted and sent to what turns out to be an even more dangerous post. The discovery of old technology that must date from the time of the First will make him realize that there is much more than meets the eye at Guarstyad. He just hopes to live long enough to discover what it is.

Not surprisingly, the pace is an issue at times. Modesitt's novels are never fast-paced affairs and From the Forest is no exception to that rule. The author needs 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. Of course, Alayiakal will also fall in love, though this love story is quite different from what Modesitt has accustomed us to in the past. Hence, From the Forest follows the classic Recluce recipe and long-time fans end up with another compelling read. Probably because it was written as the first volume in what was meant to be a three-book cycle, I felt that it was more self-contained and stood better on its own than The Mongrel Mage did. Hopefully the same can be said of the forthcoming sequels.

There are no official release dates for Overcaptain, Sub-Majer’s Challenge, and The Last of the First. Given that all three manuscripts have been turned in, let us hope that we won't have to wait a year between each installment.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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