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Colors of Chaos
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Tor Books, 634 pages

Art: Darrell K. Sweet
Colors of Chaos
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is the author of the Recluce fantasy series and a string of science fiction novels, notably The Parafaith War and and Adiamante.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Of Tangible Ghosts and Ghost of the Revelator
SF Site Review: The Soprano Sorceress
SF Site Review: The Ecolitan Enigma
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Tribute Site
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ken Newquist

The young mage Cerryl has had a hard life. In The White Order, he was orphaned at an early age, given over to the care of a saw mill operator, then apprenticed to a scrivener.

He was rescued from near-poverty by the White Mages of Whitehaven, who practice magic powered by the energies of chaos. The mages recognized Cerryl's talent and brought him into the mage guild's circle. As a clandestine right of passage, he was forced to undertake the dangerous and underhanded assassination of a leader of a nearby city.

The act confirmed his place in the guild, but it hardly makes his life easier. As Colors of Chaos opens, Cerryl is a full mage, but low in the guild's pyramid of power. As a gate mage, he's charged with inspecting wagons as they enter the city.

Traditionally, the enemies of the White Mages have been the "Blacks," the practitioners of magic based on order. But as Cerryl spends day after day on guard duty, he begins to realize that the guild faces a far more dangerous enemy: economics. Revenues on the roads maintained by the guild are falling as other cities use the highways but refuse to pay their fair share to maintain them. The guild's leadership tries to bully the other cities, raising armies and mountains in an attempt force them into line.

Through it all Cerryl senses there is something more going on, but he has problems of his own. Other mages in the guild try to control him, and he spends most of his days trying to think his way out of their plots and traps.

Colors of Chaos is L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s ninth book in his popular Saga of Recluse. New readers shouldn't be intimidated by that fact -- Modesitt does a good job of introducing new folks to his realm while letting old friends get re-acquainted with the saga.

In Colors of Chaos, Modesitt creates his own brand of fantasy not through exceptional descriptive passages or atmosphere, but through routine. Readers learn about Cerryl's city of Whitehaven as they would in the real world: by exploring it day after day.

In the first 200 pages, Modesitt chronicles Cerryl's slow, day-in, day-out progress through the guild's lowest tiers. The novel's core conflict revolves around financial and economic concerns, surprising ground for a fantasy novel. Modesitt illustrates these conflicts by showing how the rising price of goods affects mages and common folk alike. At the beginning of the story, young mages can afford the occasional dinner down at their favorite inn; by the end they count their meager coins and eat the slop in the Mage Hall.

These conflicts and the descriptions of Cerryl's life take time to unfold. It can be a grueling process for both the mage and the reader; the less patient may abandon the book early on. But about halfway through the story, Cerryl makes use of the skills he learned in the opening chapters, and the novel's divergent plotlines start to converge.

In some ways, Colors of Chaos is like a 634-piece jigsaw puzzle. Its pacing can be slow and seemingly pointless, but as the book develops readers begin to understand the author's reasoning. By the end of the novel, when the last pieces of the plot fall into place, readers can sit back and say "hmmm, that was worth the wait."

Copyright © 1999 Ken Newquist

Kenneth Newquist is a confessed science fiction/fantasy addict living in Easton, Pennsylvania, and working as a webmaster at a small university in New Jersey. He's regular contributor to Science Fiction Weekly and is the editor of the speculative fiction webzine Nuketown.

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