Monday, 2 February 2004

Legacies

L.E. Modesitt Jr
Orbit
ISBN: 1-84149-252-3


Things are tough for the Iron Valleys, a small and poor nation bordering two vast and powerful ones. It has only survived so far by being just strong enough that invasion would cost more than it would gain.
Now, however, Madrien is at war with Lanachrona, struggling for control of the continent and the Iron Valleys are perfectly placed for strikes into either country, should the other control the land. Suddenly they are strategically important and it is not long before there is a Matrite invasion force heading for the border...
Alucius is a Herder of the Iron Valleys. A young man with the magical Talent that so often runs in Herder men, though this has been kept secret from the authorities that would use his skills, taking him away from the stead his family has worked for generations.

However, when war comes and he is recruited into the Militia to fight the Matrites he finds his abilities blossoming in the battle to defend his homeland. But the slave-soldiers of Madrien and the ancient magical engines they use are only the beginning, for something far darker lurks in the heart of the enemy realm. Something Alucius and his burgeoning Talent must confront before the stain of its corruption can spread any further.

For the most part, Legacies is a war story. Alucius' training in the Militia and the battles he takes part in fill the vast majority of the book. While the quality of writing is good, it is nothing special.

There is nothing here that hasn't been done before and better, without the rather pedestrian description of every event that occurs, whether in combat or out of it. The relaying of Alucius' every move in minute detail as he wanders around camp is particularly tedious and it often feels as though the author can't think of anything particularly significant to include and opts for another 'Alucius has a look around the market' scene.

The cause of this novel's rather mundane feel is difficult to pinpoint, as the writing itself is good and eminently readable while the description of each scene is concise and reasonably effective at portraying exactly what is going on, even in the most confusing battle scenes. No, the fault lies not in the writing but in the description of Alucius himself. Our hero is a blank slate of a person, showing little in the way of any actual personality.
He does what he is told and never gets angry, has no particular friends and seems to adapt to a soldier's life with remarkable speed, killing the enemy with little in the way of remorse. In fact, he shows no feeling whatsoever and it is Alucius' robotic lack of emotion that makes it hard for the reader to care even in the slightest about what he does with his spare time, never mind what happens to him in battle. Even his family, virtually non-existent in terms of the amount of page-space dedicated to them, are fleshed out more fully and possess more in the way of human characteristics.

The pacing of 'Legacies' doesn't help to offset its major faults. In fact, it adds to them. Very little actually happens during most of the book. The most exciting thing being a few desultory battles between various sides of the conflict. Alucius spends a great deal of time wandering around the enemy homeland of Madrien, seemingly just taking in the sights and indulging in the occasional slaying before suddenly developing an interest in that country's immortal ruler the Matrial and spending a few pages sneaking around her mansion.
A solid, interesting villain is a must for any fantasy story, but the Matrial herself is only shown in minute, irrelevant snatches throughout the story. Indeed, the climatic confrontation almost takes place without her and she never even utters a word during it!

Suffering from catastrophic failures of pace and characterisation as it does, 'Legacies' was never going to be a great book. The above average quality of the writing and Modesitt's smooth style don't even come close to overcoming these huge faults, resulting in a book which isn't bad, it's just...boring, middle of the road, mundane.

The reader spends the whole novel turning pages in a zombie-like trance waiting for something interesting to happen, only to find he's reached the back cover. The story passes by in a blur, its events such as they are smearing together into a rather ordinary, uninspired mass and as such I consign 'Legacies' to my 'cure for insomnia' shelf.


This review was originally written for SFcrowsnest.com