Book Review: Spellsong Cycle Books 1-3 by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

It’s taken me a while to get to this, but I have been meaning to share this wonderful series with those of you that read my reviews. I’ve read the first three (3) of these novels and liked them quite a bit.

The Soprano Sorceress (1997) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

In this, the first book of the series, we meet Anna Marshall, a singing instructor and small-time opera sinner from most recently of Iowa, USA. And a young man by the name of Daffyd, searching for revenge upon the sorcerer that has recently killed his father, has a spell cast that is fishing for a powerful sorceress from the ‘Mist Worlds’ to his world of Erde.

Anna has recently lost her daughter, is on the rebound from a marriage that has ended poorly, has been dealing with Iowa State University music department politics and wishes she were anywhere but there. Her wish combined with the summoning spell from this other world, opens the door to make the summoning spell move her between her ‘Mist World’ of Earth, to Erde.

On Erde, Anna discovers a world out of Fantasy or Fiction. It’s a world of feudal powers and states, magic, and wars. A world almost completely controlled by men and their violent ways. (Though there is a country out there controlled by women that is quite influential in trade.)

Daffyd wants Anna to destroy the sorcerer Lord Brill, who killed his father for ‘humming’ during the building of a fortress through his magics. Daffyd, as was his murdered father, are ‘Players’ for Lord Brill. Players are the musicians that backup powerful singers, as singing is how magic is done in the world of Erde.

Anna is swiftly embroiled into the struggles of this new world and finds herself the target of assassins and seems to be destined to become another pawn in all the struggles. But she’s having NONE of that, and proceeds to discover than her singing talents and skills make her, after just a little discovery one of the most powerful sorceresses the world of Erde has ever seen.

This book shows the time from her arrival, to meeting Lord Brill, to helping Lord Brill in a battle against Dark Monks, and on to the capitol of the land of Defaulk and begins the story of her rise in that land and how her arrival will change it and all of Erde, forever.

The Spellsong War (1998) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

This book picks up almost right where The Soprano Sorceress left off. But the now Lady Anna has to deal with the repercussions of what she had to do at the end of the first book as she tries to take the reins of the land of Defaulk and get it on the road of recovery. She has to worry about threats from both outside the boundaries of her new homeland, and those within.

Defaulk has always been a land ruled by it’s 33 Lords, by MEN, and here she is, a woman, going about CHANGING things. There is plenty of strife, plenty of intrigue, and and time and again Lady Anna is forced to use her powers and skills in ways that she is not in the least proud of.

In this book we learn more of the two types of magic in Erde. There is ‘Clearsong’ which seems to encompass all things NOT living, like weather, stone, metals and the like, and ‘Darksong’ which deals with things Living or once living… like clothing, wood, and people and people’s conduct, thoughts and loyalty. Clearsong has easy to pay prices, like making you hungry, always hungry, draining you of energy. Darksong has a Higher price, doing much worse to you the more you make use of it. Each successive use of Darksong has a greater price. And Lady Anna keeps having to resort to Darksong again and again.

This book also starts the relationship in detail between Lady Anna and what is to become one of her most staunch supporters, Lord Jecks. What starts as simple friendship grows in this book, but never quite becomes ‘more’. And by the end of this book, Lady Anna needs that support more than ever before.

Darksong Rising (1999) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr

While the focus of the first two books in this series focused mostly on the threats to Defaulk and Lady Anna from outside Defaulk, this book brings things more within the borders of that country. Lady Anna has to deal with more of the Lords of Defaulk that just can’t seem to get it through their heads that a woman Can lead the country and Will lead the country wither they like it or not… for the good of ALL the country. That’s not to say that all the threats to her and the country are just from within. Those without still threaten, but unlike in the first two books, she doesn’t have to make any journeys outside Defaulk to deal with them.

This book also deals with, as the title implies, more Darksong. By not Lady Anna understands the risks, and does her best to keep away from Darksong as best she can. But her opponents are not doing any such thing, using the evil of Drums and their use in enhancing spellsong that drives armies into a frenzy and can make them nearly unstoppable… and again, she has to deal with them from her ‘own’ people in a civil uprising almost in her own back yard, and in fighting the ambitions of a spoiled and evil young man in his goals of conquest.

Central to all three of these books is Anna’s sorrow from being taken from her home world, and more importantly from her two remaining grown children, especially her remaining daughter. Time and again she tries to scry and otherwise communicate with her living daughter back in the ‘Mist World’ of Earth. These attempts always have strong consequences to her and is very detrimental to the mirrors through which she views ‘home’.

Anna is a strong woman, but she is also forced to make moral decisions and wield powers that she really, really would prefer not to have to make use of. She abhors violence but finds herself having to learn how to defend herself, and has to use her powers to cause great losses of life, both to specific persons wishing her or someone near to her harm, and to the armies of those that wish to conquer the land of Defaulk. And the damage sometimes spills over onto innocents that had no say in being present where they were, and only were tying to live their lives. Anna almost constantly is waging a war within her self against depression from what she must do, and the damage that her use of powerful energies does to herself physically. Magic always comes with a price.

Some out in the reviewing public seem to totally misunderstand some of the themes present in the books. Defaulk, as a feudal land, still not yet into any form of industrial age, is a very man-centric society, women are strongly under-respected, under-valued. It’s a rough world, with rough ways. The places where religion are present in our world’s history seems to be filled just with the ‘worship’ of the ‘harmonies’ rather than any divine spirit or being. There is a far off land, strong of sea power, which holds it’s women as ‘chattle’ and keep them in chains. These far off lands would love to take over all of the continent that Defaulk is a part of.

The world of Erde is rich and well thought out. And Modesitt’s storytelling weaves things very, very well, using the standard first person past tense for most of the story, but switching to third person present tense when giving the view of places and people outside of Anna’s direct story and knowledge. It’s a little jarring the first time it happens, but you get used to it over time. And those glimpses elsewhere gives the readers perspectives that they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see.

If you can’t already figure it out, I liked these books. I’ve tried my best in the review above to not give the stories away, yet still give enough of a taste so you can make your own decision about reading them. There’s two more books in the series I have yet to read, they are The Shadow Sorceress released in 2001, and Shadowsinger released in 2002. I have them, I’m just waiting for the right time to return to the world of Erde and the land of Defaulk to find out just what Lady Anna, Regent of Defaulk, is up to now, and how she’s going to deal with the ongoing threats to the realm.

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