L.E. Modesitt, Jr., has developed a wide readership with his popular fantasy novels set in the universe of Recluce. With more than a million copies in print, he continues to build a substantial audience with each new volume. He widened that audience with the first three volumes of the Spellsong Cycle set in a compelling and imaginative world where music is the vehicle for the creation and wielding of magic. He now returns to that universe for a new series of tales starring a new heroine who must face a succession of deadly political and military threats.
The Shadow Sorceress continues the story begun in the first Spellsong trilogy but focuses on the challenges facing Secca, now a young Sorceress. She is thrust into a position of power and responsibility when her mentor, Anna, the legendary Sorceress Protector of Defalk and the heroine of the original trilogy, dies unexpectedly before Secca's training as a master magic wielder is anywhere near complete.
Despite her reservations concerning the skills and strength of the ruler of the kingdom, Secca must immediately take command of all her magical resources to help suppress internal dissension in a neighboring province. Then she must rally potential allies to lift the naval siege laid on Nordwei by the Sea Priests, who bring with them a new kind of drumming magic that threatens the balance of power in the world, portending danger and destruction not imagined for decades.
Secca learns to fight battles with sorcerous skills she has never used before, while leading an army for the first time. She must master diplomacy in order to save her ruler and his kingdom, form alliances with unfriendly potential allies, and mediate power struggles among ambitious and disparate societies. At the same time she discovers an unexpected chance for love and companionship in a world where few men are wise enough to value women as anything more than wives, mistresses, or mothers.
Coping with these challenges, Secca proves herself more than just a quick study; she has become a woman with a limitless capacity for courage, personal growth, and fearless commitment to survival and fighting the good fight.
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TWO sorceresses stood beside the scrying pool in the domed outbuilding that lay to the south of the main keep of Loiseau. The taller woman had fine white-blonde hair, hair that could have belonged to the young woman of nineteen that her appearance conveyed. Her thin and finely drawn face was without blemish, without lines, and her piercing blue eyes were clear. Only the fineness of Anna's features attested to her true age. Her figure was nearly as slender, and far more girlish than that of the smaller redhead who stood next to her.
Anna eased into a straight-backed chair behind the small writing table, then looked at the redhead. "Secca…our good Lord Robero has requested that you visit him at Elheld, preferably within the next two weeks."
"Doubtless he has yet another heir or lord for me to meet, Lady Anna." Secca's mouth offered a sardonic smile as she perched on the tiled edge of the scrying pool. Part of her smile was because Anna had never been able to say "Robero" without a twist to her lips. Then Secca had difficulty herself. When Secca had been growing up in Falcor under Anna's tutelege, Robero had been "Jimbob." Only when he'd become Lord of Defalk had he decided "Jimbob" was too undignified and changed his name to Robero. "After all these years, he would still have me consorted."
"You aren't that old." Anna added, "He doesn't understand you, but he does care for you."
"That may be, for he understands women not at all. He understands but strength and power, and that is why he respects you, lady."
Anna sighed gently. "I wish it were otherwise. Certainly we tried."
Secca nodded sympathetically. While Anna almost never used Lord Jecks' name, Anna often said "we" when referring to what the two had accomplished for Defalk in the less than half score of years when Anna had been regent and sole ruler of Defalk. The former regent spoke seldom of Lord Jecks, but Secca had seen the lamps of Anna's rooms still lit late into many nights over the ten years since his death. While Anna and Jecks had been friends and certainly lovers, consorting had been out of the question. That Secca had understood from the beginning, when Anna had effectively adopted her after the deaths of Secca's parents, for Jecks had been a powerful lord in his own right, and the grandsire of Lord Robero, during the time when Anna had been Sorceress-Regent for the underage Robero.
"Despite his inclinations, Robero has learned much," Anna continued, "and I am thankful for Alyssa."
"So am I," replied Secca.
"You know I never would have consorted you to him."
"Alyssa made it that much easier."
The two sorceresses laughed. Then Anna cleared her throat.
"You have something else I am to do?" asked Secca.
"Kylar…" Anna said.
Secca winced. "The one who suffocated his consort and claimed she died of consumption?" Anna nodded.
"You wish me to go to Issl as well?"
"I think you should go there first." The older sorceress smiled. "You will be paying my respects to Lord Fustar. He will be most happy to see your young and smiling face." The smile vanished. "The pool shows that Kylar does not understand what has happened in Defalk, and that he will abuse any woman he can. He now seeks yet another consort." Anna looked at Secca. "You understand how you must deal with Kylar, and with Lord Fustar? Nothing must happen to Kylar while you are at Issl."
"I understand, lady. Nothing will occur." Secca inclined her head. "I could take the players, and we could stop and add a dek to the road between Mencha and the River Chean on the south end, and then add another dek or so on our return journey from Elheld."
Anna shook her head. "You dislike Robero, and yet you would work to finish paving the road he demands."
"Why not? He is likely to be lord for many years to come, and it will speed our travel from Loiseau to Elheld." She laughed. "At times, I would that there were other ways to build his roads."
"In Defalk, there are no other ways." Anna shook her head. "Robero doesn't have enough men or engineersor the golds to pay for themand he cannot call on the Lords for anything other than their liedgeld and their levies in battle."
"So we must build roads and bridges."
"It's not all drudgery without rewards, Secca," Anna pointed out. "People know we build roads and bridges, and it helps associate sorcery with good things. Given how this land has regarded sorceresses in the past, that's not all bad."
"I know." Secca grinned suddenly. "I could also use sorcery to repair a wall or bridge or something for Lord Fustar…as a gesture from Loiseau."
The older sorceress smiled. "That might help."
"It is hard to see shadows in the light of a favor."
"Sometimes," Anna replied. "Sometimes. Other times, light makes the shadows more obvious. This time, I think you're right."
"When should I leave? Tomorrow?"
"If you wish to spend time on the highway and several days being a charming guest at Issl."
Secca nodded, then tilted her head. "Lady Anna?"
"Yes? You have that serious tone."
"I would that you would wait until I return before you send your next scroll to your daughter in the Mist Worlds."
Anna nodded politely.
"At least I could play for you and lessen the effort."
"We will see," replied the Sorceress and Lady of Mencha. "I'm not ancient yet."
"Lady…" Secca tried not to plead, but to convey her concern.
"Secca…" Anna laughed. "Don't turn me into a doddering old lady."
"No one could do that." The younger sorceress smiled at Anna's tone, smiled in spite of her worries, for she had seen the deepening darkness behind her foster-mother's eyes, and sensed the ever-increasing strain that even the lightest of Clearsong spells placed on Anna, for all that Anna looked little different from what she had more than a score of years earlier when first she had arrived in Defalk from the Mist Worlds.
Copyright © 2001 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Table of Contents
Upending the Truths That Aren't
What does my latest book, The Shadow Sorceress, have to do with upended truths? If I've told a good story, does it matter? Actually, it matters a lot, because fiction, strange as it might appear, is all about truth. Books that feel "true" are the ones that we all go back and read again and again. We look for characters who seek truth to make sense of their lives and the relationships in them. That's one critical element of heroes -- or heroines, in the case of Secca, the main character of The Shadow Sorceress.
Everyone likes truths, but few people in our world or in Secca's world of Erde ever question the underlying "truths" on which their lives are based. Secca has been raised by Anna, the sorceress of the first three Spellsong Cycle books, to look into such questions, but quietly. Even so, Secca has no idea how dangerous such questions can be when the entire continent of Liedwahr is threatened by the Sturinnese.
Alfred North Whitehead, the British mathematician and philosopher, stated that, when analyzing any age, one should examine the basic assumptions underlying that society -- assumptions so basic that no one ever seriously questioned them. I'll take it one step further. Generally, those basic assumptions are regarded as "truths." They're things everyone takes for granted. For example, white is good, and black is bad.
In The Shadow Sorceress, to come to terms with herself, Secca must explore and fight against similar beliefs as much as she must fight the Sturinnese invaders. One "truth" is that hand-to-hand combat is more honorable than using longer-distance weapons, such as magic. This is a "truth" accepted by many, not only by the people of the man Secca loves, but in our world as well.
Other "truths" Secca must confront are the belief that a woman must choose between respect and love; the idea that hidden actions, such as shadow sorcery, are less honorable than open actions, such as war, which may kill thousands upon thousands; and the idea that there is a single "right" way to govern society. None of these "truths" are unknown, even in our world, and they all tie into a greater "truth." That greater truth is the basic assumption that, if people can just find the perfect system, all will be well.
We all know it doesn't work that way. So do the people of Erde. So does Secca, as she struggles against rebel lords, against the Sturinnese invaders and their massed drum-sorcery, against the assassinations of the Ladies of the Shadows, and against the hereditary nobles who would prefer all sorceresses to be mere brood mares. Secca must also confront another question: Is there too great a cost to upending the "truths" of her world?
A good look at history would suggest that the greatest conflicts have not been created by wars over who controls which trade route or river delta, or by palace intrigues, but by conflict over what "truth" is and whose truths will prevail. Likewise, most lasting relationships hinge far more on whether those involved share the same "truths" than upon romance or sexual appeal.
The Shadow Sorceress is far more than a fantasy about a sorceress and the man she loves, far more than a story about who will triumph. It is a book that raises fundamental questions for Secca (and for us) about the very nature of both power and "truth" and how they affect all those around her, especially those who are closest to her. (L. E. Modesitt Jr.)