Scion of Cyador by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Scion of Cyador is the direct sequel to Magi’i of Cyador and chronologically the earliest book in the series, though it is the eleventh of eighteen books (to date). I read Magi’i of Cyador a while ago and I couldn’t suppress the urge to read the sequel any longer. This book is a little less focused on battles and a bit more on politics, especially the second half. L.E. Modesitt is very good at letting the reader see all the little signs of change and what they add up to. It’s one of the longer SAGA OF RECLUCE books but well worth the read.
After his excursions within the Accursed Forest, Lorn is sent to the port city of Biehl, generally considered a quiet outpost where chances of getting involved in skirmishes with the barbarians are minimal. By now Lorn is an accomplished battlefield commander but this assignment requires a completely new set of skills. Soon after he arrives the corruption of the local enumerators becomes clear and Lorn is forced to act. As it turns out, this is but the first of a series of pre-emptive strikes necessary for Lorn to survive. Corruption and barbarians are not Lorn’s only enemies though; what is happening on the home front may have an even greater impact.
In the capital Cyad, in the meantime, the situation is slowly becoming unstable. The ageing emperor has still not appointed an heir, the Magi are losing the chaos-driven tools that are their basis of power (and that of the entire nation) one after another, the merchants are clamouring for change and lower taxes and the military is worried about the prospect of facing increasing numbers of barbarians without the Chaos-charged firelances the Magi’i will no longer be able to provide. Change is coming to Cyad and everybody is manoeuvring to be in the best position to take advantage of it.
The loss of irreplaceable technology brought from the stars by the Demons of Light is a major driving force in the novel. Modesitt employed this idea before in Fall of Angels (though published before Scion of Cyador, Fall of Angels is set some four centuries after Lorn’s story), where the crew of a crashed spaceship has to survive in a hostile environment with less and less hi-tech resources. This time the technology supports an empire, however. The course of an empire is harder to change than that of a handful of marines. Modesitt describes all the forces that have a hand in this turning point in Recluce history in detail. It’s a change that has the seeds of the empire’s eventual demise in it but on the other hand prolongs its life by centuries. I think these two books have the most intricate plot of all the Recluce novels.
While I enjoyed the intricate plot of this novel a lot, Lorn’s character development seems to stagnate a bit. In the previous book, Magi’i of Cyador, he changes from a talented but slightly rebellious boy to a noted battlefield commander. In Scion of Cyador, Lorn learns a thing or two but his basic view of Cyador doesn’t change. Based on his experiences he thinks that Cyador is the only state that has been able to provide the consistent level of prosperity for its citizens that he is used to. He is not blind to his nation’s flaws, but likes the alternative less. This strikes me as bit short-sighted of him; his experiences outside Cyador are very limited and most of his reasoning is still done from his position in the upper classes of society. The order of society is something he does not really question in this book, only the relative strengths of the dominating parties.
Scion of Cyador is the last of four books from the Chaos perspective. Modesitt definitely gave the series a new start with this change in perspective and it resulted in four of the best books in the series. He has since returned to the Order perspective for the next five books, after the publication of Arms-Commander in January 2010. While I am curious about Arms-Commander, I would very much like the see the author try his hand at another Chaos-oriented book. I think we have seen enough of the young, or in the case of Kharl, not so young, exile and budding Ordermage for now. It will be interesting to see if Modesitt can steer the series in a new direction in the next book.
The concluding volume in Lorn’s story may be a bit too heavy on political intrigue to please some. On the other hand, it is not short on military action and Cyad is just a wonderful setting. The feeling of an ageing and decaying empire permeates the entire story. With intricate plotting and clever manoeuvring, as well as decisive action, Modesitt has written a well-balanced book. I like the Cerryl books (The White Order and Colors of Chaos) a shade better but Scion of Cyador is among the best in the series.
Well, I like political intrigue. I was thinking as I read your review that Lorn’s view of his country, while it may be short-sighted, sounds pretty realistic.
I enjoyed reading this, Rob.
It is realistic in that way yes. The whole nation reminds me a bit of the Roman empire in its later stages. You can feel the whole thing starting to fray. There is a kind of inertia to states like this that Modesitt captures very well.