Darksong Rising, the third book in New York Times bestselling author L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s epic fantasy series the Spellsong Cycle about a singer and music instructor at Iowa State University who gets far more than she expected when she is magically transported to the world of Erde.
Anna, regent of Defalk, faces enemies foreign and domestic who wish to crush her for weilding too much power as well as being a woman. Even within her own realm she faces the threat of civil war. The solutions to all of these challenges is magical, but Anna has learned that powerful magic comes at a high cost.
The Spellsong Cycle
The Soprano Sorceress
The Spellsong War
The Shadow Sorceress
Other series by this author:
The Imager Portfolio
The Saga of Recluce
The Corean Chronicles
The Ghost Books
The Ecolitan Matter
About the Author
L. E. Modesitt, Jr., is the bestselling author of the fantasy series The Saga of Recluce, Corean Chronicles, and the Imager Portfolio. His science fiction includes Adiamante, the Ecolitan novels, the Forever Hero Trilogy, and Archform: Beauty. Besides a writer, Modesitt has been a U.S. Navy pilot, a director of research for a political campaign, legislative assistant and staff director for a U.S. Congressman, Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a consultant on environmental, regulatory, and communications issues, and a college lecturer. He lives in Cedar City, Utah.
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Anna readjusted her floppy brown hat and shifted her weight in the saddle. Beneath her, Farinelli, the big palomino gelding, continued his quick walk eastward along the dusty road that ran south of the Chean River toward the former ford at Sorprat. Anna glanced sideways at Himar, the sandy-haired captainovercaptain nowwhose mustache drooped more than usualperhaps from the road dust…perhaps from sweat. Two of her personal guards flanked themRickel on her left, and beyond and slightly back of Himar, Lejun. An overcaptain, personal guardssometimes it was still hard to believe that she was Regent and Sorceress of Defalk, and Lady of Mencha.
Less than two years earlier, she had been Anna Marshall, struggling assistant professor of voice in Ames, Iowa, a divorcée mourning the death of her eldest daughter. Then, a spell sung in Defalk and her own ill-uttered wish to be anywhere but Ames had thrown her into the intrigues and battles of Liedwahr, both colored by the ever-present male chauvinism, a chauvinism that so often she seemed the only one to recognize, even after she'd survived three attempted rapes. Because the world of Erde was governed by the harmoniesand song magic that workedthose struggles she faced were more deadly than the faculty politics of Ames. But only slightly, Anna reflected as she thought of the fate of untenured and discarded junior faculty members at the universities where she had taught over the years.
The late-summer sun had burned the back of her neck, despite her ever-present felt hat, and the sweat that oozed from her hair added to the stinging. In her green trousers and shirt, and floppy brown hat, she scarcely looked like a regent. Only the gold-trimmed purple vest betrayed the slightest indication of rankthat and her position at the head of the column that stretched a good hundred yards behind her.
An older-looking woman with red hair liberally streaked with white rode up alongside Himar, clearing her throat to announce herself.
Anna turned toward her chief player. "Yes, Liende?"
"Lady…the players are tired…especially young Delvor."
Anna glanced at the road ahead, rising slowly to a crest perhaps a dek awayroughly a kilometer in earth termsthen back to Liende. "I suspect all the armsmen are tired, too," Anna temporized, blotting the sweat from her forehead. "Everyone can rest a little when we get to Sorprat. I mean, this side of the river. I think it should be only two or three deks from here."
"Four at the most," added Himar.
"It won't be that long," Anna promised.
"As you say, lady." The woodwind player nodded, then let her mount drop back.
The air was still, so hot that the browned grasses to the south of the road hung limply in the heat. Road dust coated the legs of the horses, and a finer film covered the riders' legs. Anna rubbed her nose, gently, wondering why she had ended up breathing so much road dust. Because there wasn't any other way?
Himar eased his mount closer to Anna, his eyes on the pair of scouts nearing the rise in the road almost a dek ahead. "I will be glad when you have completed this task, lady," the overcaptain said in a low voice, "and you can return to Falcon."
Anna nodded. Lord Jecks would also be glad when she returned, since the white-haired and still-young-faced lord of Elheld had questioned the need for her mission, even though he was the grandfather of young Jimbob, the heir to Defalk, for whom Anna ruled as Regent. Regent for a youth not always grateful. Yet you've used your sorcery for Jimbob when you can't even use it to see your own children.
She swallowed, her throat even drier than from road dust alone. Would she ever be able to use the mirrors and her song magic to see Elizabetta again? Or Mario?
"Lord Jecks was concerned about this task," Himar added, unnecessarily.
The blond-haired Rickelhead of her personal guardsmiled, if briefly, before the professional indifference again masked his amusement at Himar's acknowledgment of Jecks' protectiveness of the sorceress.
Anna hadn't realized how much she missed Jecks, but she'd insisted that he remain in Falcor to heal from his wounds. In their efforts to drive the Sturinnese out of Dumar, to save Anna he'd thrown himself into the enchanted javelin hurled by the Sea-Priest of Sturinn. She still wasn't sure that she would have been able to do something like that to save someone elsenot the immediate and selfless way Jecks had done to save her. She moistened her lips at the memory.
Jecks had not been happy with her decision to leave Falcorespecially for the ten days it would take, and he had been quite forceful. "I do not see why you insist on riding out to Sorprat…you do not need a ford there. Not this year. What crops there are come from the lower valley, and the peasants and farmers can use the bridge at Pamr. For another year or so, there will be little enough trade with Ebra. What there is can take the old road on the south side of the Chean River."
Except that the old road adds almost two days travel to Menchaand Ebraand you may need those days all too soon. In fact, her own journey to repair the ford was on the old road, and even pushing, it would take a day morebut she knew she needed to be on the south side to see what she could do to undo the mess she'd made of the ford when she'd created a giant sinkhole to swallow the Ebran invaders. And she felt that repairing the ford was necessary. She ignored solid gut feelings at her own peril, and the ford's destruction had been nagging at her for well over a year.
As she rode across the high bluff on the south side of the river, Anna glanced to her left, northward out across the river, across the green valley thateverywhere away from the irrigation ditcheshad been brown and dusty little more than a year earlier. She did not look forward to revisiting the site of the battle with the Dark Monks of Ebraexcept that it had been more of a slaughter than a battle. Even under the hot sun of late summer, she shivered, recalling the screams and the terrible grinding of the earth as her song-sorcery had churned the muddy waters of the Chean River over the trapped soldiers.
The column crossed the low rise in the road and started on the gentle downgrade toward the point on the south bank of the river opposite the town of Sorprator what of it had been rebuilt after the destruction wrought by Anna's magic. It still astounded her that "good" or harmonic song magic-Clearsongcould create such massive destruction, often with not too great a side effect on Anna. Yet the smallest of Darksong spellseven those which would have obviated the need for destructive Clearsongcould prostrate her, possibly threaten her life. Another unfairness that you can do nothing about…because that's the way this world operates. Period. She put that thought aside and concentrated on the spell she would have to use shortly.
Before long, she reined up Farinelli short of where the high grassland endedabruptly. Himar gestured, and a trumpet signal echoed through the early afternoon. Behind them, the column slowed and halted. Anna patted Farinelli on the shoulder, and the gelding nodded ever so slightly as if to suggest that he indeed deserved some thanks.
Where the plateau ended, what had once been a sinkhole was now a circular and placid lake, smaller than it had been, and cut off from the Chean River by a low muddy rise barely three yards above the lake's surface. The water was still brownish. Below the sorcery-cut bluffs, between the base of the bluffs and the water's edge, instead of beaches, mud slopes angled into the murky lake.
"It is peaceful now," said Himar quietly. "One would hardly know that thousands perished there."
Anna nodded. Ten thousand Ebrans. Dark Monks, she added mentally. "We're close enough."
Himar turned his mount and stood in the stirrups. "Stand down!"
As she thought about the Ebrans, Anna almost wanted to shake her head. Hadrenn, the Ebran Lord of Synek, had beseeched her to accept his fealty. She had, and in making him one of the thirty-three lords of Defalk, thereby effectively added a quarter of Ebra to Defalk. And probably ensured another war in Ebra. One way or another there would have been war in Ebra, she reminded herself, between Hadrenn and Bertmynn, the noble who had taken the title of Lord of Dolov and sought to unite all Ebra under his rule. The difference was that Hadrenn had a legitimate claim to lands that had been seized from his father, and sought only those lands, while Bertmynn was willing to sell out to the Liedfuhr of Mansuur and the Sturinnese to rule all of Ebra. And the Sturinnese chain their women.
Anna dismounted. For a moment, as she grasped the cantle of the saddle with one hand, she wasn't sure if her legs would hold. After she took the bottle that still held water, she drank slowly. She recorked the bottle and replaced it in the holder before walking slowly in the open road before Farinelli to stretch her legs. Next came the vocalises, to clear her cords of dust, and the mucus from allergies that Brill's youth spell had done nothing to remedy.
Behind her, horses sidestepped, and the armsmen murmured hi voices so low that the sound was more like locusts than men. She shook her head, then began another vocalise, hoping that getting her cords clear would not take forever.
"Quiet!" snapped Himar, and the murmuring died away.
When Anna felt her cords were clear, she walked back to the gelding and extracted from the left saddlebag the sketch of the ford she had drawn from memory back in Falcor. Once she unrolled it, her eyes flicked from the drawing to the terrain before her and back to the drawing, comparing the two.
The sketch showed almost a wide and flat stone shelflike structure that would spread the river into a shallow and wide expanse, similar to the clay flats and gravel shallows that had existed before Anna had destroyed the bend in her efforts to annihilate the Ebran forces. She'd also sketched out what amounted to a gradual spillway that would funnel the river back into the deeper channel that existed below where the ford had been.
While she could have used sorcery to construct another bridge, the ford had worked before, and she was reluctant to change what had worked, especially since the northern side of the river was so much lower than the south and there was little enough stone beneath the bluffs.
Finally, Anna lowered the scroll, turned, and motioned to Liende, who stood before the players. Anna waited until the red-and-white-haired woodwind player eased forward.
"If you would bring the players up here. Face them toward the river, not the…lake," the sorceress said. "We'll use the long building spell. Warm up and run through it a few times while I finish getting ready."
"Players to position, here." Liende motioned for the others to gather in a semicircle.
Anna walked forward a few steps, before stopping and looking at the sketch of the ford and attempting to reconcile it to the reality of crumbling bluffs and mudflats split by a turbid river perhaps thirty yards wide in a deep channel.
While the falk-horn, the woodwinds, and the strings tuned behind her, she sang the notes of the spell, using "la" instead of real words, and worked at visualizing the ford.
"We stand ready," Liende announced.
Anna turned to the chief player. "I'd like one run-through to fix the spell and words, please."
"At my mark," Liende ordered. "Mark!"
Anna tried to mesh the visual image, the words, and the melody, all without actually singing the spell itself. Halfway through, she stopped and shook her head. "I'm sorry. Could we try that again?"
After the second run-through, Anna took another sip of water, squared her shoulders, and nodded once more at the chief player.
"The long building songfor the spell," commanded Liende. "At my mark.…Mark!"
Anna concentrated on just the spell and the image of the stone-footed ford the spell was designed to form, ignoring the heat, ignoring the fivescore armsmen mounted and ranked behind the players, using full opera voice to set the spell.
…replicate the blocks and stones.
Place them in their proper zones.…
Set them firm, and set them square weld them to their pattern there.…
Bring the rock and make it stone.…
The bluff underfoot shivered, and kept shivering. Anna had to step sideways, but managed to keep her voice open, strong, and clear. The lightning marking her use of the harmonies, and unseen to any but her, or so it had seemed, flickered in the bright blue southern sky. The haze that formed would turn into clouds, clouds that would dissipate within a few hours glasses, she corrected herself mentally.
As the song ended and the shimmering haze lifted, Anna smiled raggedly. The bluff to her right had been trimmed into a stone-paved inclined road down to the river, and the murky waters of the Chean formed a glistening sheet nearly a hundred yards wide across the newly created stone ford. On the far side, a second stone causeway rose out of the ford to join the road through the dozen huts that represented the rebuilding of Sorprat.
"Most amazing, Lady Anna," offered Himar.
Murmurs from the armsmen ranked behind the players were louder.
"…not many others who can do that."
"Not many, Nirweit? How about none?"
"…hope the peasants appreciate it."
The dizziness that accompanied strenuous songspell-casting again left Anna light-headed, but she stood firmly on the ground that shifted under her. Every spell she castor so it seemedleft her weak, if for varying periods. That she had to eat like a glutton to maintain her strength was something she still had trouble accepting.
Rickel handed her the water bottle and a hard biscuit.
Anna took both, murmuring, "Thank you." Will you ever do a songspell without feeling drained? Her eyes blurred, and she grasped at the saddle to steady herself, holding on until the dizziness subsided.
The near-dozen players stood drained, their shoulders drooping, as they also sought water and biscuits.
Anna stepped toward them. "Thank you all." She had to make an extra effort to ensure her voice carried, that it was steady. She nodded to Liende, and offered a smile. "Everyone was together."
"We have been practicing," Liende acknowledged, her eyes dark with fatigue.
"I can tell. Thank you."
Liende bowed slightly, and Anna took another swallow from her water bottle.
Even after drinking and eating several biscuits, she remained light-headed, and might until the next day. But she remounted Farinelli, offering a smile to Himar. "Shall we try the ford?"
"As you wish, Regent," responded the overcaptain gravely. "As you wish."
Once the column was remounted, Anna urged Farinelli toward the stone causeway that sloped down to the Chean River, toward the ford only she thought was necessary. Was it really for faster travel to Menchaand Ebra? Or because you destroyed the old ford? To redress the wrongs your sorcery has created?
Her gut feeling remained that she had done the right thing, but the uncertainty as to why remained, long after the column had passed through Sorprat and the Chean River sheeted near silently over the newly wrought stones of the ford.
Copyright © 1999 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Table of Contents
L. E. Modesitt Jr. -- Fantasy Against the Grain?
DARKSONG RISING is the third volume of L. E. Modesitt's Spellsong Trilogy (The Soprano Sorceress, The Spellsong War). The three books follow Anna Marshall, a university voice professor and singer who finds herself in the land of Defalk, where sorcery exists and is controlled by song and where she has the potential to be the greatest sorceress ever. On the surface, the Spellsong Cycle appears conventional enough. Like his popular Recluce series, it's anything but conventional once you look beyond the existence of magic. To probe why and how Modesitt's work differs from that of other writers, we've posed a number of questions for him. Enjoy what he has to say.
bn.com: Can you explain, for those who are still unfamiliar with The Spellsong Cycle, the general background and premises of the three books?
L. E. Modesitt: Erde is a world governed by magic, but not totally to the exclusion of technology. Through an unforeseen chain of events, Anna Marshall, a voice teacher and singer, who is older with grown children, finds herself in the land of Defalk and at the center of both intrigue and invasions. She has the potential to be a powerful sorceress, but she needs time, and her experience tells her that only a handful of those who either oppose or befriend her can be trusted.
I was looking for a logical basis for magic, and because music is so mathematical, I decided that a good starting place was a world where the mixture of instrumental background, vocal dynamics, and the words of a spell all had to match to create magic. So the world of Erde is governed by the interplay between harmony and disharmony. And because, contrary to popular opinion, very few people can really sing or understand how to match note values to verbal concepts, there would be very few sorcerers or sorceresses. Furthermore, because song magic is powerful, those few sorcerers/sorceresses would have very few students, because most students, by nature [ask any voice teacher] are ungrateful when young and therefore are not to be trusted with great power. That means those who can control the magic of song are rare and tend to be somewhat distrustful of others -- occupational paranoia, if you will.
The three books are about how Anna gains both understanding of Erde and power, how she wrestles with the temptations of power and the separation from her family and children, and how she comes to terms with herself and with Erde.
bn.com: What, in your opinion, is unique about your fantasy, be it the Spellsong Cycle or your popular Saga of Recluce?
L. E. Modesitt: There are a number of aspects to the books that differ from more conventional fantasy, but those differences lie primarily in the backgrounds against which the stories unfold and in the characters themselves -- and perhaps in what is not in the books.
First, what I don't do. I don't do dragons and cats -- nor sorcerous monsters, trolls, elves, and the like. I've found enough monstrosity and evil -- and good -- in human beings that I find have no need to go further than the existing cast of humanity for various types of extremism. I also don't use technology [in my science fiction] or magic [in my fantasy] as a means of solving problems per se. In my experience, any additional capability or great talent creates as many problems as opportunities. So while my fantasy characters may use magic, there is always a high professional and personal cost to its use, and magic is always a double-edged tool/blade.
What do I do that's different in a creative way? My cast of characters varies from book to book. Anna is a middle-aged woman with grown children. Lord Jecks is a grandfather. Those are scarcely the conventional fantasy protagonists. In the Recluce Saga, there are no more than two books with the same protagonist, and the leading characters range in age from young men and women to an aging and second-class spacecraft engineer.
Another aspect is that all my characters have to spend a lot of time working at what they do. Lerris is a woodworker, and he has to make furniture to survive. Nylan is an engineer who builds things, out of necessity. Dorrin is a healer and an engineer. Justen is the equivalent of a mechanical engineer. Even Creslin, when he finally is running a kingdom, is worrying about economics, the balance of trade and tariffs, and the costs of maintaining an armed force. These kinds of day-to-day considerations affect the entire plot of each book.
Now, some have complained that a basic plot theme underlies all my stories. In a general sense, that's true. All my books contain one of the basic plots outlined years ago by Robert A. Heinlein. He called it "the man who learned something." All my protagonists learn something, and they pay highly for that knowledge/self-knowledge. But how and what they learn varies greatly from book to book.
bn.com: How is Anna, the heroine of the Spellsong Cycle, different from other female characters in popular fantasy fiction today?
L. E. Modesitt: Anna has a number of distinguishing characteristics. First, she's older. She's been around the block, so to speak, and she worries about her age, her weight, her children. She's not a brilliant and beautiful young Twiggy, so to speak. Second, she's not perfect. She has a temper; she can occasionally be petty; and she makes mistakes. Third, she learns from those mistakes, and she weighs things. She knows which battles to fight and which not to fight. Fourth, although she feels things, often deeply, she's not misguided by false chivalry, nor does she indulge in acts of mercy that will only return to haunt her. Fifth, she understands, clearly, the limitations of logic. Finally, she knows who she is, and she knows that she cannot afford to be other than what she is.
Anna's been in the trenches, so to speak, but she's been there as a woman, not as a woman pretending to be a man or as a man disguised as a woman. That gives her an outlook that's seldom seen in fantasy today.
bn.com: Unlike a lot of high fantasy, your books are actually reviewed very well in publications outside the field, in the "mainstream." How do you account for this?
L. E. Modesitt: There are probably a number of plausible explanations, and I'd have to be guessing which one is most accurate, but one possibility is that I've attempted to provide a greater depth and consistency to the people and the societies about which I write. Second, I do concentrate on writing in what I'd call a deceptively transparent style. I don't post "neon signs" in what I write, points in the narrative where a character says, in effect, "This is important! Watch for it later." All the information is there, but it's almost never highlighted, and I've had readers write me and note that they found they couldn't skim read because they eventually got lost. My editors continually bemoan the fact that there's virtually no way to make significant cuts in my writing, because everything is interrelated, and if something's cut, something else is lost. Third, I had a very classical education, and I like some of the aspects of that kind of writing. Apparently, because I do, it's in what I write, and at least some critics like it.
bn.com: Your fantasy is complex and multilayered. It's evident you spend a great deal of time developing your worlds, the social structures, and the communities. From a layman's point of view, your societies might work! Do you agree?
L. E. Modesitt: I'd certainly hope so. That kind of detail and acceptance are what I work for. It may also go back to an early story that Ben Bova rejected for Analog. In his rejection letter, he pointed out that a casual reference to a bit of technology in the first paragraph invalidated the entire point and plot of the story. I took the point to heart, but I still see writers out there including cultural aspects or technologies that are internally inconsistent. Most readers aren't professionals in economics or social dynamics, but they are intelligent, and many can certainly "feel" when something is not right, even if they can't articulate why. I believe that the more accurate and well thought out the background and society of a story, the more the reader will accept it, and the characters who live and struggle in that society.
bn.com: How would you respond to someone calling your fantasy "the thinking person's fantasy"?
L. E. Modesitt: Again, I'd hope people would feel that way. Certainly one of my goals is not only to "enchant" a reader with the story and the characters but also to leave them with afterthoughts and questions, perhaps about our own world and cultures. In my opinion, the best novels are those that combine entertainment, adventure, and provocative thought.
bn.com: In addition to fantasy, you've also made a name for yourself writing science fiction, even alternate history now and then. Do you find writing one genre more difficult or more challenging than the other? More enjoyable?
L. E. Modesitt: As an author, I find that science fiction and fantasy offer very different challenges. Originally, I was a straight science fiction writer. I'd written and had published a number of SF short stories and eight science fiction novels before I wrote my first fantasy. Alternating between the two is the most enjoyable for me.
bn.com: Tell us about your future plans. What can we expect from L.E. Modesitt, Jr., in 2000?
L. E. Modesitt: Part of that depends on the publisher, but the next new book out will be another Recluce novel, Magi'i of Cyador, which is scheduled for hardcover release in April. Then the paperback version of Gravity Dreams will come out in July, followed by a special trade paperback in August: Timegods' World. The Timegod book will combine the two full-length Paratime novels, The Timegod [originally, The Fires of Paratime] and Timedivers' Dawn. Then in the fall, Tor will be releasing Scion of Cyador, the follow-up Recluce book to Magi'i of Cyador. After that, the schedule gets a little fuzzy. I've delivered another science fiction novel, tentatively entitled The Octagonal Raven, but Tor hasn't scheduled that yet.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was pretty good. I was surprised how easily I was able to fall back into the series, because it's been several years since I read the first two. I haven't been reading much fantasy, so this was a nice change of pace.
I completely enjoyed all three books in the series. I enjoy reading about Anna dealing with problems similar to those in our world. As Regent & Sorceress, she leads Defalk against their enemies, helps educate the aristocracy of Erde, and helps Lord Jecks raise his grandson, the heir to the throne. She does this while dealing with athsma, which makes her vocal magic that much harder. Magic is not easy and Anna pays for what she does with her own energy and health. In addition she worries about the violence she is forced to commit, in efforts to avoid even worse consequences to the people of Erde. Those who know her consider her to be a good friend (tough but fair) and a very bad enemy. Like others, I eagerly await the next book in the series.
After reading the first book of this series, I had to read all of them. I just could not put either one of the three books down. It is a MUST READ series. I can't wait for another one of this series to be published.
This is the third book in the Spellsong cycle,in which our sorceress is still trying to bring a torn country of Defalk together, and unite the rebellious lords. Anna must defeat her enemies if she is to survive in her new world. The author brings us to a exciting finish, and still leaves us with the thought that there could be more? A must read for fans of L.E.Modesitt Jr.