Monday, October 15, 2018
Nanoreviews: War Cry, Outcasts of Order, The Broken Girls
McClellan, Brian. War Cry [Tor.com Publishing]
Brian McClellan is best known for his excellent Powder Mage trilogy, which is a bit of flintlock fantasy / military fantasy. War Cry marks his first time (to my knowledge) stepping away from that Powder Mage milieu. The results are mixed, perhaps because the lead character, Teado, is fairly one dimensional.
War Cry takes place during a decades (longer?) long war, a war that has gone on so long that few of the fighters remember why they are fighting, only that they are born to serve and fight and die and repeat the cycle through generations. Teado's squadron is in a remote outpost, struggling to get supplies, struggling to make a meaningful strike at the enemy.
What is most effective in War Cry is the desperation of the soldiers, the not quite hopelessness but the raw exhaustion. That, and the climactic battle sequence, which is also extremely well done. The problem is that the characters, including Teado, are mostly just names and cutouts. The stakes feel lessened because of that. I don't know that McClellan has a novel worth of story to tell in this setting, but a bit more room to let the characters breathe and develop and take shape would certainly be worthwhile.
Modesitt Jr, L.E. Outcasts of Order [Tor]
Outcasts of Order is the middle volume of Modesitt's Recluce trilogy focusing on Beltur, a black mage who can't seem to find a safe and stable home, despite just wanting to keep his head down and live a quiet life. After functionally being a war hero fighting the White Mages of Gallos, Beltur is back trying to earn a living assisting the local blacksmith in forging some super rare material that hasn't been seen in hundreds of years. The forging goes well, the living a quiet life part does not. Beltur is targeted time and again by the powers of Elparta until he is forced to flee.
At this point, it is impossible to discuss a Recluce novel without talking about how it has become comfort reading. It is. I suspect that I'm a bit more generous with these later Recluce novels and with Outcasts of Order in particular - but I think the deliberateness of this novel is a bit more tedious than I find it in most Recluse novels. I am looking forward to that deliberateness in The Mage-Fire War because of how that novel is set up, but despite the comfort part of the reading it's definitely waiting for plot movement (though every time Beltur is forced into action, it's incredibly effective)
As a side point, in the last novel, I thought Modesitt leaned to heavily on the idea of Beltur being a "mongrel", not a true black mage according to the leading mages of Spidlar. With Outcasts of Order the overused concept is weather related. It seems like everyone here is talking about a storm being (or not) a "northeaster". Maybe a little less of that, if possible. I'll still read every Recluce novel Modesitt puts out, though.
St. James, Simone. The Broken Girls [Berkley Books]
I started to read The Broken Girls just before bed one night, got less than twenty pages in and decided that it would be a book better off read during the daylight hours. From those first pages I knew the haunting in the novel would be one that would linger into my dreams and that's just not something I need with two small children already waking me up in the middle of the night. This was the right decision.
The Broken Girls is a seriously unsettling novel. This isn't specifically a ghost story, but a haunted boarding school is at the center of the novel being told across two eras. Both storylines are compelling, though I more often wanted to be back in the 1950's at Idlewild Hall - there was something extra wrenching and terrifying about that era. That's not to say that the present era isn't powerful in its own right because there are emotional ghosts and buried secrets that all begin to tie together with Idlewild. But Mary Hand? Friggin creepy and disturbing. As long as the lights were on, I didn't want to put this book down.
POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.