The Magic of Recluce
Author: L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Type: Fiction, Fantasy

Book Review

********Warning: Specific spoilers for the beginning of the book, as well has vague spoilers for later on, can be found below!********

The story follows a young man named Lerris through an interesting fantasy world. As the book opens, he is being sent off to apprentice with his uncle as a woodworker in the perfectly ordered island nation of Recluce. Everything must be in perfect order, lest they allow in Chaos, and the people devote much of their time and energy into maintaining this perfect order. Why? Because, you see, in the world on which Recluce resides, there is a complex system of magic, not (in theory) based on good and evil, but on order and chaos. Order (represented by black, the absence of color) builds things up, and chaos (represented by white, the chaotic combination of all color) destroys. In this book, this creates a implied good-vs-evil atmosphere, which was a bit disappointing given that the book seemed to promise otherwise. The one exception is the gray wizard Justen, who, despite being allied with neither Chaos or Order, seems to only display his order side in this book.

Recluce is entirely allied with Order, you see, and that is why everyone devotes such a large portion of their life to maintaining that order. As an effect of this, all sources of Chaos must be cast out. When one is identified, they are given the choice, exile or Dangergeld. Exile is simply that, expulsion from Recluce, with no hard feelings, other then the exile will never be allowed to return. For those that hope one day to return to Reluce, the other option is Dangergeld, in which a person receives some training in the world at large, and is exiled for a couple years with some vague direction to find out who they really are. If they come back wishing to live in Recluce, ready and able to serve order, they may return, otherwise they simply live as an exile.

It is in this situation that Lerris finds himself. He has talent, skills, and some abilities that seem to set him apart, but he is constantly bored, with the quest for order, with his apprenticeship, essentially with everything. Besides that, he wants some answers for how things are the way they are, which no one seems to want to give him, insisting he find them for himself, something that he does not have the patience for. So when given the choice between exile from his home and family and Dangergeld, he chooses Dangergeld. He heads to the port city run by the brotherhood (Recluce's order-mage group, that defends the island) and receives training along with a handful of other dangergelders. It becomes quickly apparent in training that Lerris has a great affinity for magic, and has the potential to become a great order mage, or a terrible chaos mage, if he does not learn order and control on his dangergeld. Soon his training is complete, and his Dangergeld group is taken away from the island of pure order and dumped into the rest of the world, teaming with both order and chaos, to make their way and see who they really are.

This is a good book, though not without a myriad of flaws, not in the setting, but simply in the story of the book. This book seems to promise a complex system of morality and shades of gray, but for the most part it presents Chaos as evil and order as good, though there are hints that this isn't entirely the case, such as the fact that Reluce, haven of pure order, routinely sends people that don't fit in on life-threatening journeys. Chaos, on the other hand, is so far represented as being completely bad, and even the seemingly good acts of the story's main chaos-wizard, always have a sinister ulterior motive. The book's chance for redemption on this fact comes with the introduction of a gray wizard to the story, but this falls short, as even here, he only seems to use the "good" order magic and seems to be gray only in the fact that he doesn't want to be allied with the black wizards of Recluce.

The other major failing in the book comes with how simply things are resolved. Confrontations of various kinds will be built up and hinted at over the course of several chapters, only to be solved in a page where the protagonist has a new idea or some breakthrough. Modesitt seems to be good at writing build up, but not so good at writing the confrontations themselves.

One final disappointment is the fact that a lot of characters seen early on seem to disappear from thought as the book goes on, and the book leaves a lot of questions and situations unresolved. I was greatly looking forward to a sequel, only to discover that the Saga of Reluce is truly about Recluce and the world, not about the characters we meet in it. Most books follow different characters in different times, and out of all the books so far, only 1 returns to the story of Lerris and his companions. While I'm not sure I would've liked 12 more books of Lerris and company, his story, and his timeframe (most of the other books in the saga are prequels) seems like it could fill more then just 2 books.

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