There’s no longer any doubt — Modesitt has fallen into the “shampoo” mode of series writing: rinse-shampoo-repeat. Alector’s Choice, while not a bad book if read on its own (which it can be), is, for fans or former fans of Modesitt’s other work, merely a rehash of the same old same old. Same old plot. Same old characters. Same old conflicts. Same old resolutions. Only the names have been changed to protect the profits (and a possible plagiarism suit if one could sue oneself).
Reading the above criticism, those who’ve followed the Corean series can predict what’s coming here. A good character of middling military rank is placed under an incompetent superior and given multiple impossible tasks. Employing his still-developing “talent” and his tendency toward original and independent thought, the character manages to overcome said impossible tasks, though not without feeling guilt over the ease with which he learns to kill and not without angering his incompetent superiors. While doing so, he will gradually rise in rank (end of book is coming — cue promotion), overhear snippets of conversations among his men marveling at his ability and his compassion, stoically continue his impossible task of the moment despite being badly wounded, and kill his opponents with a single “crack” of his rifle, despite the seemingly impossible distance between them. He will also ride (a lot), order food (a lot), and tell his men to do a variety of strange yet effective things.
As with the previous three books, there are differences of specifics — this book is set in the far past, all the characters are new as is some of the geography — but no differences of character type, of plot, of structure, of resolution. It’s as if it came out of the old Hardy Boy/Nancy Drew/Tom Swift factory structure. If one comes to this book as the first entry into Modesitt’s world, then it’s moderately readable. It moves along at a decent pace but becomes a bit repetitive within itself and lags a bit toward the latter third. There is little sense of suspense with regard to one of the two main characters — Mykel, the military man described above — since his actions mostly repeat and his abilities are such that one never doubts the outcome of any of his situations. A bit of complexity is added with a second main character, Colonel Dainyl, an Alector caught up in Alector politics linked to the rebellion Mykel is sent to put down. But there is actually little of interest or depth to the Alector culture or background (with the exception of his conversation with one of the original Alectors whose sense of age and sorrow is one of the book’s few shining moments) and the politics mostly involve Dainyl flying around musing on how little he understands.
If I had come to this book first, I’d probably rate it a solid three — readable but uninspiring, interesting but not compelling. But being aware of what’s come before means it gets downgraded to a two due to its cookie-cutter approach. Not recommended for fans (who will be bored with the overly familiar elements) or for newbies (as the series peters out so badly). If one wants to try Modesitt, turn to the Recluce books which, though by the end also become overly familiar, at least don’t do so for a good number of books.
Despite believing what Bill said about the “shampoo-rinse-repeat” nature of Modesitt’s COREAN CHRONICLES, I gave Alector’s Choice, the fourth book in the series, a try since it has just been released in audiobook format by Tantor Audio and they sent me a review copy.
If you’re interested in reading Alector’s Choice, you should know that you don’t need to read books 1-3 first. Alector’s Choice begins a trilogy that’s a prequel to the rest of the series. In fact, if you haven’t read the other books in the series, you are likely to enjoy this book a lot more than I did since my main complaint is that it’s too similar to the previous novels.
The story follows two protagonists. The first is Mykel, a competent soldier who gets caught up in a war that he doesn’t understand. His superior is an idiot and Mykel has to figure out how to do his duty, which is to obey his superior, while still holding true to his moral code. The second is Dainyl, an alector who, like Mykel, is also rising in the ranks of his peers. Also like Mykel, he has reasons to hide his magical skills from others. Both men are confused about the changes that are occurring in Corus and what their roles in those changes might be. Are they being set up as tools? Or scapegoats?
Unfortunately, I have to say that I completely agree with Bill about the repetitiveness. Mykel is indistinguishable from Alucius, the hero of the previous three COREAN CHRONICLES novels. The way his power starts to develop, the way he wills arrows to their targets and makes things explode, the way he interacts with his superiors, the way he treats the soldiers under him, the way he mops his forehead, the way he knows where enemies are but doesn’t know how he knows — it’s all the same. Modesitt even uses the same story-telling techniques, such as the way he tells us what other characters think of Mykel by having Mykel overhear what they say to each other as he walks by a crowd… everything was so familiar and, for that reason, disappointing.
On the positive side, the addition of the second protagonist was helpful to change things up a bit (but not enough) and to give a different perspective of Modesitt’s world. Also, I think readers who like this series will be happy to learn a little about the ancient history of Corus. It’s so secretive that even the alectors don’t know how they arrived on their world or how long they can continue to live there. I’m a little curious about where this is going.
The audiobook (Tantor Audio) is mostly well narrated by Kyle McCarley. I say “mostly” because his voices for women and young boys are unappealing. I don’t think listeners would imagine Mykel’s love interest to be a desirable woman because of McCarley’s sinister sounding voice for her. But he does a great job with the men. (Oh, and, as usual, there’s some atrocious cover art on the audio version.)