If Ordermaster and its prequel Wellspring of Chaos had come out as the first two books in the Recluce series, I’d have given them a slightly stronger review. Ordermaster is decently paced, has a good strong main character, some interestingly complex politics as its background, and is overall pretty well-written. But after reading a dozen Recluce books before these, one has to wonder how many times can Modesitt tell this same story. The problem in Ordermaster, besides the fact that we’ve seen this story so many times before, is that the plot begins to feel repetitive even within the book itself, a problem that has already affected his shorter series, The Corean Chronicles.
To recap the general formula: reluctant man of great but unpolished power gradually learns to use said power through a series of increasingly difficult tasks/battles in which he overcomes great odds at the cost of greater personal injury, much to the awe of those around him. He grows more powerful and more reluctant each time, often due to an increasing distaste for the death he’s caused. In the end, he returns triumphant but battered to his humble abode where he’ll humbly do some humble craft until humbly forced to humbly pick up yet again his hero mantle in the next book.
In this case, the humble hero is Kharl, the cooper turned mage/lord from Wellspring of Chaos, where he helped Lord Ghrant of Austra overcome a rebellion led by his brother. In this book, Kharl must first help Lord Ghrant of Austra overcome a rebellion (helped in large part by the greedy Hamorian empire) and then in the second half return to his home of Brysta to help put down a rebellion led by one brother against another (helped in large part by the greedy Hamorian empire). The manner in which he puts down both rebellions is as strikingly similar as the overall plot, use of the “sight shield” to slip unnoticed into enemy areas, use of “hardened air” to kill enemies, turning back of “chaos fire” against the wizards who wield it, and so on. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that if one simply copied fifty pages and then changed a few names, one would have the next fifty pages, and could continue to do so until all 400 pages were done.
What helps Ordermaster somewhat is the characterization, which though familiar is also nicely done for the most part. And a few of the side-stories are well-done as well. And if you haven’t read other Modesitt books, it’s a decent enough story, though too repetitive. With each “new” book of Recluce, I hope more and more for an actual original story and I grow more and more disenchanted. I’ve moved Modesitt from the “buy the book” category to the “get at the library” one because of the repetition of story and character, and he’s on the edge of being added to the “don’t bother reading because you’ve seen it all before” category. Ordermaster doesn’t do anything to change that.