Scepters, the third book of The Corean Chronicles, isn’t a bad book in its own right. If it could be read on its own (one really needs to have read the two previous books to follow this one), it would have been a decent if not great or even really good read. But coming as it does after the first two, my largest reaction was: haven’t we seen all this before?
By now the pattern of plot and character has become pretty rote. Alucius, the main character of all three, is reluctantly forced to once again take up arms to protect his ability to remain a herder and have a normal life. Once again, he protests that he has no desire to leave his home, that he only does “what needs to be done”, that he wishes no further honors, awards, etc. Once again, he is placed in “impossible” situations (made impossible due to overwhelming forces arrayed against him, overwhelming enemy technology, weak and/or corrupt officers on his own side, and poorly or barely trained soldiers he must fight with). Once again he overhears snippets of conversation about how impressed his soldiers are with him and how insecure and jealous his superior officers are. Once again, he does the impossible while getting badly wounded. After healing, it all begins again. Literally. These general repetitions of plot would be bad enough, but for some reason in Scepters Modesitt simply repeats some specifics as well. The crystal throwing machines are back wreaking havoc and needing to be destroyed. The torques are back and their controlling crystal which needs to be destroyed. The ifrit are back with their tables that need to be destroyed. And the soarers are back to kidnap a herder and teach him how to use his talent. Actually, Modesitt slips in a creative change here; they teach her to use her talent.
Of course there is some new plot here and a few new characters, but this may be the worst example of plot repetition in a series I’ve ever seen. I suppose Eddings’ later works give it a run for its money.
The main character is far too perfect and if his own perfection doesn’t get to you, the constant reminder by others in the book that he is perfect just might. One never really feels a sense of crisis as it’s been made clear he will sail through all obstacles, even if he has to spend a few weeks in bed afterward. His wife is more footnote than anything else in this book until the last section and doesn’t really stand out in the reader’s mind as more than a plot device. And here again, their relationship is far too perfect. His sidekick, Feran, is far more realistic and therefore far more interesting.
The military aspect of the novel is interesting to a point; it’s nice to read battle scenes that have some sense of reality to them. But do we really need every single reporting in or attendance check? It reminds me of old movies where directors would show people getting in their car and actually driving for minutes before someone finally realized they could just say they were going someplace and then shoot them arriving at their destination.
As I said, if this were a standalone book, with a little more exposition it would have been a decent read. But it isn’t a standalone and Modesitt has crossed the line from welcome familiarity of character and plot to simple dull repetition. He (and his readers) would have been far better served with a single book or perhaps a single sequel.