I'm not one to condemn a series on it's initial volume, and maybe there's some merit in that. The second volume in the Spellsong Cycle isn't that bad of a book, especially if you take a look at 'The Soprano Sorceress'
When we left Anna, she had just wiped out the Evult with a volcano, shortly after assuming the mantle 'Regent of Ebra'. The Spellsong War deals with her consolidating her hold on fractious Defalk, and fighting a new enemy, the Maitre of Sturinn, while at the same time having to deal with threats to her borders from surrounding nations.
Intent on her Regency, Anna is determined to rebuild Defalk, and secure it for the Heir, Jimbob (Jimbob? What kind of name is Jimbob?). She must begin by crushing rebellions within her borders, and finish defeating her newest enemy, eager to chain all women. Well, that's the basic outline. As for execution? It runs a little something like this: Anna sings some verses, wipes out the enemy, passes out, lies close to death, recovers. Repeat that five or six times, and you have the novel in a nutshell. She doesn't really come close to losing, and when she does, she's just a few musical lines away from a crushing victory.
Thankfully, this time we're allowed a couple of characters aside from Anna. The enigmatic Lord Jecks, and the stoic Hanfor. However, they're basically useless. I spent the entire novel waiting for Jecks to lead a charge, or demonstrate his skill with the blade, but was disappointed. His function seems to be to wait at Anna's side while she wipes out the enemy, and then passes out. The entire novel hints towards a romantic current between Anna and the handsome Lord, yet almost nothing comes to fruition. Still, it's a welcome change to have some characters to explore aside from Anna.
We're also given a closer look at one of Anna's principal enemies, the Lord Ehara. Although not nearly enough to make him a 'good' villain, it's more than what we were given with Eladdrin in the previous novel. However, Rabyn, now the child Prophet in Neserea, is strongly fleshed out, and here we have a promise of an enemy who might last for more than the span of a book. Though only a child, his corruption is undeniable, and if he's not killed off in the next book or two, he could prove a promising character.
Modesitt continues with his patterns from the previous novels: The present tense interludes, the ...'s, the weak verses, and now he's managed to add to an impressive list by using the word 'bitch' or 'dissonant' on practically every other page. I don't have a problem with profanity when it's warranted (and the book boasts some stronger words) but it really doesn't serve any purpose when it's used four times in a two page span. In addition, some other smaller things have started to bug me. Anna's occasional reference to some obscure musical terminology is frustrating. Maybe I should consult a dictionary. Who knows, I might even enjoy it more. (ok, so I exaggerated that a little). Even the section titles have come to bother me. I think they might be in Latin, or something. I don't think the majority of fantasy readers are fluent in a dead language, and it's pointless to name a section of your novel in such a fashion that few people understand it. Anyone know what Thema Und Variante means? If you do, please enlighten me. I guess this is more of a rant about my own ignorance than any well founded criticism.
Regardless, I'm a little vexed with Anna throughout the novel. She has a habit of generally categorizing men, even the dashing Lord Jecks, as thickheaded. Granted, the male characters are all portrayed as foolish and unreasonable, but the women aren't any better. I'm also a little disturbed by her lack of morals. Sure, she agonizes over the deaths of thousands of civilians for all of about, a paragraph. And then? She fires 'em all. At least when Rand did this in the Wheel of Time, he had the grace to be devastated, and carried the burden of guilt on his shoulder constantly. But Anna? Fry & Forget apparently.
I'd like to apologize for the brevity of this review, but trust me, there's not all that much substance in these novels. Maybe I've unduly focused on the bad parts, but they've really jumped out at me. In all fairness, I've read worse, although a specific title doesn't come to mind. The second book is also an improvement. I didn't have to allot specific time for reading so I could finish a review. So, I guess what I'm trying to say, is take this with a pinch of salt.