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The Hammer of Darkness by L. E. Modesitt
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 076531567x
Date: 30 May, 2006 List Price $13.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Adjustment brings many difficulties including learning to live in a world with gods and other beings with super powers that initially exceed his. Determined to find his own path and remain human, Martel experiences temptation in many forms.

Capricious gods demonstrate the dangers of absolute power although they regulate human behavior and administer rough justice. Humans live in a theocracy, not a democracy. They fear to cross the gods, and Martel's unpredictability frightens them as well. He ends by causing the death of those he respects or loves because he can not bring himself to confront the gods. He refuses to lash out at them and begins a long process lasting a millennium to grow into his own power and to curtail theirs.

The gods set various traps and challenges for him, but, like mere humans, they fear him and avoid an outright confrontation. They want to learn the nature of his abilities and ambition. Martel wants nothing to do with them.

A goddess who calls herself Emily and may be Diana takes a fancy to him. He finds her familiar, but isn't sure why. The images of his human lover Rathe, the Duke's daughter Kyrn, and the goddess Emily mingle and confuse him. He regrets the inaction that cost Rathe her life and even considers recreating her.

The novel unrolls as Martel learns his real nature and struggles to remain human. Destruction and killing are high prices to pay for vengeance and to right old wrongs.

Modesitt addresses the questions of what it means to be human, how absolute power can corrupt, and even the nature of myths and gods. While he ties up many of the strands by the end of the novel, some inconsistencies remain. He never explains why Martel acquires certain abilities others never discovered.

Reader reaction to the novel over the years has been mixed. Some liked it; others did not. However, it lays the basis for most of his later work and mixes myth, technology, and magic for a heady elixir. He also provides a convenient, if strained, explanation, for old gods, but never really explains their nature or origins.

The author of over forty novels of speculative fiction including fantasy and science fiction as well as blends of the two, he has also written a number of short stories. Hammer of Darkness shows the roots of much of his body of work.

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