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survivors of a space mission that led them stranded on a world that is not only hotter than they would like, but one where women
on 4 July 2014
I have to admit that the Recluce books by L E Modesitt Jr. are a bit of a weakness of mine. I have read other novels by the very prolific author and found them to be simply okay, but the Recluce series have always been entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.
It is also one of those series that I was waiting for the bubble to pop. After all it began with a run of five books, that were cleverly written, released in an unusual but working order - chronologically the first book is actually fourth... But they work perfectly as they are, introducing you to the world of Recluce, then filling in some of the history then delivering the big finish.
When more books followed it felt as though Modesitt might have been trying to make stretch the idea, but instead he produced book after book that deepened the world he had created, and each one ultimately won me over.
Arms Commander is the 16th book in series, and for the first time I felt as though the format was being stretched, not quite the bubble popping, but certainly deflating a little. There seems to be a pattern to the novels forming, in which a single character is thrust into a situation of the his/her depth. There they are forced to make use of what power (Recluce has a superb and fascinating magical system based around Chaos and Order) they have, only to discover that they are a lot more powerful than they thought, and resolving the almost insurmountable problems they face along the way.
This is true of Arms Commander. Set further back in the history of the world, Saryn is Arms Commander of Westwind, a small matriarchal society, survivors of a space mission that led them stranded on a world that is not only hotter than they would like, but one where women are seen to be inferior and there is a strange magic like power at work.
In an aggressive patriarchal society a group of independent, strong women are seen as a target, and life is little more than a struggle to survive against the environment and the men who are determined to prove that women are inferior and should not have power.
Some of the story was told in two previous novels (Fall of Angels & The Chaos Balance), but here Westwind is starting to feel threatened by the male world below. And so Saryn must learn that she has a stronger connection with order and chaos than she might have realised and move out into the world, leaving the life she has know behind and effectively change the world around her.
It is a well told tale, with quite a bit of satisfaction as a lot of the chauvinistic men are forced to come to terms with a woman that is powerful, more powerful that they can deal with. But it is a pattern that has appeared in previous books in the same way, Saryn is forced to learn how to use powers in a new ways; she is weakened by using them, but continues to do so.
The anti-female society is a good idea, especially as it is seen as inherently wrong, and here we are shown the effect an outside force can play in changing a world rooted in its ways. But it is a point that felt belaboured, almost as though Modesitt was trying to emphasise how bad it was.
The book ends well, but it is not the best Recluce novel by far, in fact at this stage I’d say it is the worst. It does not make it bad, just not up to the normal standard that the author has set.
With two more books due (one just released and one to come at the end of the year) it will be interesting to see whether Modesitt has taken his world as far as he should, or if it can return to the heights of the 15 previous novels.