Friday, March 21, 2014
Fall of Angels, L.E.Modesitt Jr.
I had one of those weeks where I cracked open 4 indie books, and shut them after getting a third of the way into them. No plot? No problem--No way. So I was looking around my dusty shelves and came across my beloved Saga of Recluce collection and picked up "Fall of Angels." Written in 1997 by L.E. Modesitt Jr., this is one of the most enduring fantasy series of modern times. I think its longevity has to do with the way the saga takes place over many generations, and takes you into both sides of the conflict, with not usually more than two books dealing with a particular protagonist.
Now in Fall of Angels, Modesitt moves deep into Recluce's past to chronicle the founding of the Empire of the Legend, the almost mythological domain ruled by woman warriors on the highland plateau of the continent of Candar. He tells the story from the point of view of Nylan, the engineer and builder whose job it is to raise a great tower on the plateau known as the Roof of the World. Here the exiled women warriors will live and survive to fulfill their destiny. Here a revolutionary new society will be born . . . if Nylan can get the tower built and defenses in place before the rulers of the lowland nations come with their armies to obliterate them all. And if Nylan can learn to control the magical powers that are growing within him.
Thus Modesitt relates the story of how magic comes into the world of Recluce, in a fantasy novel destined to please the growing Recluce audience and win new readers to the series.
Fall of Angels is the sixth book of the saga of Recluce.
Two radically different magics--The black of order vs the white of chaos--this is the central facet of each tale in the saga. In each book the protagonist is either of the black or white persuasion, and in a few there is a grey area of magic. In Fall of Angels, Modesitt explores the side of order, the black magic of healing and building.
At the outset of the tale, we meet a crew that by happenstance, is made up of women, with only three male crew members. Nylan is the ships engineer, and, as are all the officers, he is connected into the ships neuronet, the mental command center that completely controls the ship and its environment. Ryba is the ship's captain, and while she and Nylan have a sexual relationship, there is no doubt that she is in command. I didn't say romantic, because though they sleep together and care for each other, there is no romance involved. As a result of a great battle, they are thrown into an alternate universe, above a strange planet. With no way to return, they are forced to land.
They are "angels," humans from the various cold planets of Heaven. Most are from Sybra, the coldest planet, but a few are from Svenn, a warmer planet. Nylan is half-Svenn. The Sybrans cannot take the heat of their new world and are pretty much trapped in the cool mountains. Unfortunately the first thing that happens is they have landed on a world previously colonized. It probably happened in the same way, but by the Rationalists of the warmer worlds of Hell, those humans called 'demons' with whom they have been at war with for thousands of years. The lord of the land immediately attacks them, and the conflict is on.
This tale takes the concepts of traditional gender roles and twists them inside out. If she hadn't been thrown out of her universe, Ryba would never have had the chance to rise any higher than she already had, as women are considered technically equal, but there is a glass ceiling most women can't break through. In their new world, she makes sure the three men know they are now the ones with lesser stature, coldly telling Gerlich, "I could amputate both your arms and you would still retain your stud value." She is determined to build a culture where women have all the power and men are simply a means to reproduction. She is deadly, calculating, and will ruthlessly use anyone to achieve her goal.
Nylan is a strong man but he is not a leader, and feels like he has no other options, other than to march along with plans Ryba sets down for them. Using their failing technology he forges the weapons and builds their tower so they can survive the first winter in their mountain home. As events unfold and his relationship with Ryba disintegrates, he is confused and unsure of what to do. He is a man with a temperate mind, believing in equality with neither sex having the upper hand. A few of the women feel the same way he does.
This age old conflict makes for an awesome tale. Each character is sharply drawn, and the contrasts in their philosophies and the way they relate to each other drives this to a dramatic finish. I have read this entire series several times, and absolutely love it. In my opinion, this is one of Modesitt's better tales.