The Soprano Sorceress. What a dubious title. My first mental image upon seeing this book was that of an opera singer calling down lightning. Pretty ludicrous, you'd imagine. Strangely enough, that's exactly what the book boils down to.
The book begins by Anna, a divorced music teacher, who has recently suffered through the death of a daughter, being magically pulled into the world of Erde. Now, before we go any further, I admit to having a biased against present day heroes (well, heroines...) in fictitious worlds, yet both C.S. Lewis and Guy Gavriel Kay have created masterpieces centered upon this very principle. In fact, upon completing this book, an admirable task in itself, it was my fervent wish that either of the aforementioned authors had written this book.
First off, you should know that in Erde, magic is in the form of songs. A sorcerer(ess) must sing a spell for it to take effect, and it's power is augmented by musical accompaniment, in the form of skilled players. Initially summoned by Jenny and Daffyd, a player whose father was murdered at the hands of Lord Brill, a sorcerer, she arrives in response to his need for a sorcerer, to extract vengeance on Brill. Instead, both Anna and Daffyd join Lord Brill, to help defend the land of Defalk against the evil Ebrans, marching towards their borders even now. And that's the first half of the book, in a nutshell. Anna spends most of the time working on her spells, and talking to the various inhabitants. And as for Daffyd? His character is explicitly ignored. We have only vague explanations as to why he continues to serve the man who killed his father, and little insight into the player as a person.
Speaking of characters, its' somewhat irritating that Anna, being pulled into such a world, takes only the span of a few pages to become accustomed to the fact that her musical talents rank her as the most powerful sorceress in the world. Despite that fact, Anna isn't really a bad character, she just isn't given all that much to work with. She's developed adequately throughout the book, although that might only be in comparison to the other characters. About midway through the book, a miscast spell on Anna turns her from her fortyish appearance into a youthful and eternal beauty. It's ironic that a book that attempts to portray a woman as an intelligent and powerful character also finds it necessary to make her attractive and beautiful as well.
The book also suffers from the lack of a tangible enemy. We're given glimpses of neighbouring countries seeking Defalk's downfall, and of Eladdrin, leader of the Ebrans. However, none of these serve to flesh out Anna's adversaries. As Eladdrin is the primary antagonist throughout the novel, we'd expect a little more characterization, yet we have practically none. We can neither hate nor pity him, nor fear or respect him. To add insult to injury, Modesitt finds it necessary to portray all characters not physically with Anna in the present tense. Guy Gavirel Kay used this technique in 'A Song for Arbonne' to great effect; it was used to provide us with an impartial view of the enemy, and allow us to gauge his corruption for himself. In the Soprano Sorceress however, it's used simply to convey dialogue, and seems completely out of place.
As if lack of characterization and present tense interludes weren't enough, Modesitt has some annoying habits. They're all small things, but exceedingly irritating nonetheless. For example, he finds it necessary to describe everyone by their hair colour, and sometimes nothing else. We run across uncountable instances of the the 'blonde sorceress, the 'pert brunette', 'raven-haired woman' and more. It's simply becomes tiresome after awhile. During an initial character description hair color is essential, but to refer to that character by their hair constantly is annoying. Also, Modesitt suffers from an extreme addiction ellipses. Meaning, you'll see several '...' on every page. For some reason, Anna always catches snatches of conversation, as everyone seems to talk about her within earshot. This is used for everything from giving opinions to describing scenes. For instance, we're given:
"What is she doing?"
"...just sitting there in the mist..."
"...nowhere to go, and she is looking at the sky?"
Once again, a small matter, but in generous helpings, it gets sickening. Finally, and inevitably, as we're dealing with magical songs, we're assaulted by little couplets and verses at every turn. Some of these are rhymed horribly, and on some the meter is completely off. Honestly, if singing was that powerful wouldn't everyone take singing lessons? Once you've been assailed with:
"Armsmen lax, armsmen strong,
turn to order with this song.
Armsmen lax, armsmen bold,
respect and fear my hold!"
Or several cases of "Mirror Mirror, on the wall..." you'll wince everytime a spell's called for.
As the above verse demonstrates, Anna can do pretty well anything with magic. Wipe out armies, command obedience, make someone kind for life, so much so that there's few real predicaments in the novel, and no defeats.
In closing, this book is slow, weakly written, and intensely annoying. Any climactic events are treated quicker than an incidental conversation, neatly resolved in seconds. There's no secondary characters at all, and the book is home to some irritating quirks on the author's part. And finally, what little story we do get is just plain lousy, for lack of a better term. Even though you should be able to find the hardcover edition of this book in the bargain bin for around eight dollars (like I did), that's eight dollars better spent elsewhere.