June 09, 2004

Darknesses, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

This sequel to Legacies continues the story of Alucius, nightsheep herder and horse trooper, as the political situation develops and he learns more about his world. He's now married, and (thanks to his exploits in the previous book) is a captain in the Iron Valley Militia. All he really wants to do is complete his term of service and return to his life as a herder. But there are two obstacles to that dream: his skill, and his Talent. He's too good a commander to be allowed to leave the service, and though he's worked hard to keep his Talent a secret, he didn't reckon with the Lord-Protector of Lanachrona.

It seems that in the dim distant past, the entire continent of Corea, of which the Iron Valleys are a very small part, was ruled by a government called the Duarchy. It was a golden age, so the legends go, in which Talent and technology were combined, though it had some nasty flaws that led in the end to a complete societal collapse all across the continent. Few of the Duarchy's artifacts remain in Alucius' day; the most obvious is a road network of imperishable stone. But the Lord-Protector of Lanachrona has a wondrous device, the last remaining Table of the Recorder. A person with sufficient Talent and the proper training can use the Table of the Recorder to see events anywhere in the world, at the present moment or any moment in the recent past. The Table of the Recorder has an interesting blind spot, however--whether unavoidably or by design, highly Talented individuals are invisible to it. Their surroundings, however, are not.

The absence of a person in the table where interesting things are going on is therefore interesting information. The absence of a person in the table where your spies indicate that a person should be is therefore interesting information. As the book progresses, the Lord-Protector has a shrewd notion that Alucius is very talented indeed. And as it has long been the Lord-Protector's dream to annex the Iron Valleys, you know that Alucius isn't going to have a quiet time between now and retirement.

Meanwhile, in a vault deep in the grass-lands of Illegea, a nomad warchief is given access to weapons of the Duarchy that have lain in suspended animation for a thousand years: twenty pteridons and sky lances of the Myrmidons of the Duarchy. With himself and nineteen of his fighters awing on pteridon back, and all of the clans of Illegea united under him, Edyss thinks it's a fine time to take on the decadent city-dwellers.

On the whole, this is a rather more satisfactory read than its predecessor; there's plenty of action, and we actually get some interesting (and surprising) answers about the history of Alucius' world. However, I'm quite curious to see where Modesitt takes this next--the next step isn't at all obvious.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 9, 2004 05:08 PM