Wellspring of Chaos by LE Modesitt Jr

Character is more important than plot, narrative is tightly drawn and captivating.
Wellspring of Chaos book cover

Modesitt Jr's 'Wellspring of Chaos' takes us to Nordla, thence to the town of Brysta to the home of a middle aged cooper named Kharl whose aptitude for woodcraft is quietly pushed along in his cooperage. He suffers from all the usual problems of a well settled man, teenage sons with issues, a wife pushing him along to improve the business, the daily struggle of providing for his family. As a periodical so aptly indicates on the jacket, there are no youthful "callow youngsters who grow into heroes" just a hard-working man who suffers the cruellest of fates when he decides to help a young female Recluce blackstaffer who is beaten and left for dead on his workstep.

The social consequences of his individual kindness means his charge is murdered under cover of an arson, his sons leave him, his wife is arbitrarily executed by the actions of a prideful and callous young nobleman, his cooperage is attacked and then he is taxed out of his home and his place in society is irrevocably destroyed. Force to flee and hide in the town's gutters, he befriends another runaway, Jeka, and his patient, logical approach begins to reveal a hidden talent for order. With Jelendra's staff (the dead mage from Recluce) and her `The Basis for Order' book he kills a white mage who is preying on the youth of Brysta to gain new life and finds himself fleeing to the sea and taking a position as second carpenter on the Seastag under captain Hagen. After proving himself a capable fighter and using the tentative beginnings of his order power to assist the ship he finds himself involved in a political and real battle to save Lord Ghrant's lands. His single handed destruction of a powerful mage and the opposing lord elevates his status far beyond that of a cooper and hands him a minor landholding.

Clearly the beginning of at least a two novel story about Kharl, Modesitt again effortlessly proves that he can create a fantasy tale of true magic around a very ordinary character in much the same way he has done with the Corean Chronicles. It is the mark of an excellent storyteller that you can get eighty odd pages into a novel, pause and realise all you've really done is learn about making barrels and the trade of said barrels, but be thoroughly entertained. A clear case of superb characterisation removing the need for quick fix plots that lurch from one big explosion to another to keep reader attention because the characters themselves engender no empathy at all. For any fan of the fantasy genre Modesitt is in a very different league to many others simply because of his style. Character is more important than plot, narrative is tightly drawn and captivating and the novels are strangely gripping.

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