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Bewildering Stories

L. E. Modesitt Jr., Legacies

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Author: L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Publisher: Tor Fantasy, 2002
Hardcover: $27.95 US
Length: 608 pages
ISBN: 0-765-30561-5
Let me say at the outset that any negative opinions expressed in this review of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s new Corean Chronicles book, Legacies, have nothing to do with the fact that the villains in this story are all blondes. The uncharacteristic blonde females in this story enslave nice young men with killing torques around their necks and tote swords and guns. No, any unkind comments are strictly in the spirit of a fair review, not in defense of my fellow Goldilocks and this will be the only blonde joke you will read in this review, trust me.

In spite of the tantalizing hint of fair-haired fun mentioned above, alas, there are no jokes in this story. Alucius, the hero of Legacies, is, in fact, a very serious and responsible young man. To quote his grandfather, grandmother, and mother, Alucius is always good. The lad's father died in conscripted military service, leaving Alucius in the care of the said mother and grandparents. The family survives as herders of night sheep. These are seriously horned and ornery creatures not exactly related to the placid bovines of our acquaintance. It's a tough job.

As the story opens, Alucius is approaching conscription age, and the same draftee status looms ominously on the horizon for him. His people (Alucius lives in what is called the Iron Stem of the Iron Valleys) are fighting on several fronts, primarily against the invading (and matriarchal those bad, bad blondes again!) Matrites. But though Alucius is, sure enough, forced to part from his family and tearful fiancée as soon as he has the fateful birthday, there's more to the new cavalry trainee than meets the eye. Herders through the generations have depended on an elusive and mostly secret Talent to help them fight the sanders, sandwolves, and other perils of their profession. Alucius has an unusual degree of that Talent. With the aid of that Talent, he's soon serving as a scout on the front-line battle against the Matrites.

But the Matrites have some fearful weapons from the dark past, and worse a form of the same Talent that Alucius inherited. And scouts, of course, have an exceptional exposure to danger. Alucius, in spite of his abilities, is struck down by the enemy and carried away captive into the land of the Matriel, an ageless blonde beauty who rules over a peace enforced by killing torques and strangely polluted Talents.

The Matrites, a practical people, make good use of their captives. Alucius, by virtue of his military skills, is pressed into the enemy's cavalry. The torque around his neck ensures either swift and complete obedience or instant death. But using his talent and his wits, it looks like Alucius is going to survive and even prosper in the enemy's service if he can hide his own Talent. The Matrites are all too aware of the dangers of such abilities. In fact, using that increasingly powerful Talent of his and some supernatural encouragement, it looks Alucius might even find a way to strike at the Matriel herself.

Readers who enjoy a gnat's eye view of military life, cavalry-style, will especially enjoy this book. Almost the entire middle of the book is taken up with convincingly detailed military actions. This may bog down the forward action of the plot, as the chief purpose of these sections appears to be the author's interest in convincing us what a brilliant and talented individual Alucius As Good As Alexander in Action is.

Fortunately, the grand old cavalry skirmishes are entertaining in themselves (this reviewer went to bed with echoes of Squad HALT! Rifles ready! Squad FIRE! ringing in her head afterwards). But alas, the other purpose of describing Alucuis's action sequences and rise to power, enlightening us as to the character of the hero, failed for this reader. By the end of the book, I just didn't especially like this particular hero. Alucius is portrayed as a decent and responsible young man at the start of the story. He works hard, respects his elders, and nobly refuses to bounce his fiancée's bones when the opportunity is offered he's Always Good, remember no premarital sex for him! This was a refreshing portrayal of a character, to be sure.

But by the time Alucius joins the Matriel's army, my good feelings about the hero had begun to slowly evaporate. He's still a quiet loner. He's still diligent now in the service of the enemy. Killing is just one of the things this noble lad Has To Do. He isn't tempted into spending his competently earned — i.e. killed for — silvers on wine, women, or song. He does worry about his grandmother, sort of, but he sleeps well enough, apparently untroubled by killing in the service of the Matriel. No inner conflict or anguish about What Has To Be Done here! The charming youth becomes well, a little bit chilling, and definitely less interesting than he could have been to this reader.

By the time Alucius finds out how to kill with his Talent, and starts using that ability, I was less than sympathetic. Pesky blonde Matriel officer in his way? No problem. Gone. His fellow countryman, Majer Dyer, less than receptive to someone who'd served in the enemy cavalry? No problem. Gone again. Superman just causes him an apparent heart attack. The unfortunate Dyer just keels over in his saddle and bothers Alucius no more. It reminded me of that hilarious song sung by Koko the Tailor (a.k.a. Executioner) in The Mikado : “They'll none of them be missed.”

There's an old truism that it's awfully boring to read about Superman. Since this is a rather chilly, unemotional, vigilante version of Superman, this reader is not looking especially hard for the sequel to the story, Darknesses, at this moment. The teaser included at the end of Legacies looks all too familiar: there's Alucius having to off four villains at one whack, I mean, one thought, all over again.

This is too bad, because much of this book is well written I am a fan of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Recluse cycle, and that same craft can be seen at work here. But unfortunately the well-written action scenes of Legacies are not combined with a likeable protagonist for this reader. Pick up Legacies if you'd like to read about well-written cavalry engagements or just have a fantasy of being a Superman who can kill with a thought (if you are having any kinky fantasies about those dominating killer blondes, forget it: this story is serious stuff).

Otherwise, pick up something from L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s early Recluse cycle instead and enjoy yourself in a better story.

Legacies and its sequels are available in paperback.

Copyright © 2005 by Danielle L. Parker

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