ARMS COMMANDER by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
SAGA OF RECLUSE
Tor, January 2010
Forced to land in a world where women are suppressed, the 'Angels' have carved out an inhospitable section of mountains to call their own. But all around them are nations who see their female-dominated hierarchy as evil and swear to wipe them out. Arms Commander Saryn is responsible for training and leading the Westwind guard and defending the struggling nation. But when she visits the one neighboring nation not explicitly at war with Westwind, she's forced to make a personal commitment. She'll come to the aid of the regents in Lornth if they provide the sulfer and saltpeter Westwind needs to defend itself. It isn't long before Lornth calls in its IOU and Saryn has to leave Westwind to confront both Lornth's rebels--who are aided and financed by neighboring countries.
Saryn finds herself continually outnumbered, continually under attack, yet also continually reinforced by local women who flee their oppressive lives and who want the kind of freedom Westwind represents. As she battles, Saryn develops her magical powers, allowing her to kill far more enemies than she could ever manage with her swords alone. Then there's the young man who clearly has a crush on Saryn. Could a relationship be a part of her future?
Author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Modesitt) continues his Recluse mega-saga with ARMS COMMANDER. I found a lot to enjoy in this story. Modesitt generally starts with an obnoxious and rebellious teen who finds his place in the world but in this story, Saryn is already a mature and powerful woman who has a place and no idea that she'll ever want to move beyond that. The action scenes are top-notch, with Saryn working on her order-skills, analysing the nature of magic in ways that his younger characters generally don't have to (because they can read about Order in their books, for one thing). While I certainly agree with the message part of the story (countries are foolish to treat their women as liabilities rather than assets), the frequent conversations and internal dialogue about the role of women and whether the men of the planet will ever grow beyond their prejudices don't really seem to lead anywhere. Saryn worries about it, kills a bunch of guys, then worries about it some more. I would have prefered it if she'd tried things to overcome the prejudice, failed, refined her plan, etc. rather than simply worrying and killing. The resolution seemed driven by others rather than by Saryn herself. While this reflects a becoming modesty, it also weakens the story.
Overall, ARMS COMMANDER is highly readable and a welcome addition to the Recluse series. It wasn't my favorite in the series, but it's certainly an enjoyable effort.
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