The Saga of Recluce is a classic fantasy series often quoted for the masterly attention to detail to the worldbuilding and fine magical system – but the thought of ploughing through eighteen books is enough to make your knees buckle. You simply don’t have the time – or the stamina. What to do? Well, The Mongrel Mage not only will delight fans of this cracking series but also makes an excellent entry point into this world.
In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic – the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.
Regular visitors to this site will know that I am a fan of Modesitt. At his best, his writing is amazing – see my review of Ghosts of Columbia. But I haven’t read all the Recluce novels and when I was reading them, back in the Dawn of Time, it was way before I was writing reviews. So I was interested to see this one on Netgalley and give it whirl. I’m so glad I did.
Modesitt is a master at crafting a solid world. While there is mayhem and chaos unleashed in abundance, we generally also spend a fair amount of time alongside his protagonist as he goes about his daily life. We learn what he wears, who he chats to and his impressions about them and above all – we learn what he eats. Modesitt always tells you in some detail about what his character is eating. It’s a neat trick. Because you immediately learn how wealthy the food provider is, how effective they are at food preparation and at what level technically and culturally they are operating at.
Though none of this would matter if I didn’t care about Beltur. However, I do. His careful, wary attitude speaks of early loss and pain – and the fact he doesn’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t help that he is something of a failure and despite his uncle’s painstaking training, his mastery of white magic is rather poor, leading his uncle’s official apprentice, Sydon, to look down on him and bully him when his uncle isn’t there.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sortie into the countryside, when we learn a lot about the politics as the Prefect sends out Kaerylt with his two young charges to look into the matter of women fleeing from local towns and villages and making their way to Westwind. If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor constant action, then this isn’t the story for you. But it does mean that when the action suddenly roars in – it matters and is a shock. This pacing is particularly effective if said action comes out of apparently nowhere when treachery is involved – and my jaw dropped at a specific incident and I couldn’t then put the book down to save my life.
All in all, this is Modesitt doing what he does best – painstakingly constructing a world through the eyes of a sympathetic, slightly distanced protagonist and letting him loose in a politically complex world where a huge power struggle is going on. I loved it – it’s a worthy addition to the Saga of Recluce series and a very nifty introductory book for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy.