Darknesses by L.E. Modesitt Jr
First off, though this does stand as in independent story in what is called THE COREAN CHRONICLES, it will make a lot more sense to you and you’ll be a lot more invested in the characters if you read the first book ahead of time. Darknesses returns to the same main character, Alucius, who remains as in the first a reluctant soldier caught up in battles and politics he’d rather not wage, preferring to set down his sword and his strange Talent and return home to be a herder with his new wife. This book roams further afield than the first book as Alucius is sent to various locales (helps to periodically check the map to keep all his travels and the stratagems behind them straight) and involves more characters, which helps prevent it from feeling stale.
As in the first, the world and especially the military world is presented in a gritty realism and while there is a lot of detail regarding troop movement etc., Modesitt is careful not to let it overwhelm the story or bog it down. It’s a smoothly paced book throughout, helped by the many quick shifts of character and setting. Some of the side characters are given short shrift, but Modesitt does a nice job with the one ruler he focuses most on, giving us a seemingly full sense of character but in a nice deft touch, without revealing to us whether he will turn out friend or foe to Alucius.
Problems with the book are minor though distracting: The major villains of the story (as opposed to the many smaller ones) are introduced a bit too abruptly and through too much exposition as opposed through the natural flow of action and dialogue. There is a bit too much deus ex machina intertwined with that story line as well. The jumps back to his herder homestead are somewhat perfunctory. And some of Alucius’ actions and dialogue started to feel a bit repetitive, such as his many protests (clearly unbelieved by most he protested to) that he is just a normal guy doing his job.
Overall though, it’s an enjoyable read which expands on the first book and leaves some clear openings as well for future material. It won’t wow you, but you’ll have a good time.
Tantor Audio released the audiobook version on October 28, 2014. Kyle McCarley narrates Darknesses which is 18.5 hours long. Mr McCarley uses a slightly nasal tone for Alucius and he distinguishes the characters by giving them different accents that don’t seem likely (using an English accent for some, a thick German accent for others), but it does differentiate the characters effectively (if improbably) and the pacing is nice. I agree with Bill’s review of the story and I have no problem recommending Darknesses in audio format.