L.E. Modesitt Jr., best known for his work on the expansive Saga of Recluse, began another epic fantasy journey in 1997 with the book, The Soprano Sorceress. Telling the story of Anna Marshall, a classical singer and music professor in Ames, Iowa, who finds herself transported to the medival-styled world of Erde, The Soprano Sorceress serves as the first of the five books that make up The Spellsong Cycle.
Upon arriving on Erde, Anna finds herself thrown headfirst into political maneuvering and all-out war while coming to understand that in this world, music is the key to power. Anna quickly grows into one of the most powerful sorceresses on Erde as she learns how to use her voice and knowledge of music to create more complex and useful spells.
The system of magic that Modesitt creates for the world is a lot of fun – the power of song has the potential to set people on fire, purify water, and literally move mountains. The premise of The Soprano Sorceress is quite interesting as well – blending portal fantasy with high fantasy while touching on themes of identity, beauty, the politics of power and misogyny. Many have referred to Anna’s story as an example of feminist fantasy as it highlights her struggles being a powerful woman – maybe the most powerful person in Erde – in a deeply patriarchal society. To many men in this world, Anna not only has to demonstrate her capabilities to lead, but expressly illustrate how she can go above and beyond what other male leaders can do. To others, she is expected to act meek or promiscuous, and when she proves to be neither she is quickly met with hostility.
While there is strength in the book’s premise and concept, and it’s simply delightful any time Anna gets the opportunity to stick it to the patriarchy, Modesitt spends an excessive amount of time on details that tend to bog down the story. There is a place for detail within a novel, however in this case the author’s penchant for it made segments of the story drag. Further, save for a few, many of the periphery characters to Anna felt a little one-dimensional and often interchangeable.
Despite these shortcomings, however, The Soporano Sorceress is a fun read, deserving of credit for some unique ideas and its unforgiving feminism.