Recently I got a hankering to re-read one of my favorite fantasy series, the Saga of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., and the first book in the series, The Magic of Recluce. It was as good as I remembered, and it’s worth a look for any fantasy fan.
The series is, of course, about a world where magic works, but it’s a unique kind of magic, based on order and chaos. Most mages can only handle one or the other; if you’re able to handle order, you’re a black mage, if you can handle chaos, you’re what’s called a white wizard (why not a white mage, I don’t know). A few people are able to use both, they are grey wizards. Most people can’t use both because touching an object infused with order will burn someone who has more than the normal amount of chaos in their system.
The Magic of Recluce follows Lerris, a budding black mage, as he is sent on a dangergeld to “find himself,” because he has the habit of demanding explanations for just about everything rather than trying to figure it out himself. To be honest, I can see why the rulers of Recluce decided he needed to get away from the small island nation and see the wider world. Although the book starts slowly — as do most Modesitt books — it’s at least partially because he takes the time to explain in detail the character’s background and the area of the world at the time of the story, which is helpful because the Recluce books tend to jump around a bit in time. For example, the first and fourth books (in publication order) are two parts of the same story with Lerris, with two prequels stuck in between.
If you can stand to wait a bit before getting into the action, you are rewarded with a very detailed world with a sense of history; I suspect Modesitt wrote at least a sketch of the history of the world before ever starting on this particular story, because it’s that rich and detailed. Some of the magic in the book isn’t seen in other, later Recluce books, but even that can be explained given the simple yet versatile rules of magic that Modesitt has come up with, and because according to the internal chronology of the books, this is one of the latest stories, so perhaps the mages in the other books that are earlier in the timeline just hadn’t discovered those techniques yet.
One other very interesting thing Modesitt does is that he makes most of his mages get what could be called day jobs, which lends a lot of realism. Lerris is a woodworker, making chairs, trunks, and other wooden furniture as a way to keep food on his table. I guess magic doesn’t pay the bills that well, which makes you wonder how mages in other worlds can manage to afford to keep a roof over their heads.
All in all, I consider the Magic of Recluce a classic of the fantasy genre, and really recommend it to anyone that wants a good read with a number of unique features.
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