There is a lot to love about Recluce:
Full disclosure: This will not be a review of the books or even a comprehensive review of the series. I hated book reports in elementary school, and I’m not doing book reviews here. all I want to do is share what I like and dislike about this series. Mr. Modesitt has twenty two books on my library shelves, I’m thoroughly invested.
There is a lot to like in these books. If you’re unfamiliar with Recluce, I’ll summarize. The world of Recluce is in an alternate dimension from Modesitt’s Parafaith War. I’ve never read those books, but that’s what all the commentary I’ve read talks about. Two factions from this war made it to this Earth-like planet. An intentional colonization effort by the Rationalist Demons who built the nation state of Cyador, and the crew of a single combat vessel from the Black Angels crash land to build the country of Westwind on the roof of the World.
Strangely, there are already humans on the planet before either group settles there. The new arrivals carve out new homes, although both countries are eventually destroyed. While a few survivors flee to other countries around them. The majority of traditions from both Cyador and Westwind die with them. Chaos and Order, the magic both societies were born from, remains.
Chaos and Order: The Yin and Yang of Recluce
In the world of Recluce, Chaos and Order embody powerful forces controlled by human thought. Chaos is a fiery destructive force used by White Wizards, and Order is a strong preservative force wielded by Black Mages. More powerful than either are so called Grey Mages who wield Chaos and Order together. These two forces shape every significant event throughout the series.
Each book takes a single character and shows the reader pivotal moments in their lifetime. We read about more than eighteen hundred years of the history of this world. The individual hopes and dreams of each character also show the development of nations, armies, magic users, and ordinary inhabitants throughout the world of recluce. Modesitt shows economic, social, environmental, and technological changes to his world from the arrival of the Demons to the eventual destructive balance between Chaos and Order.
Most of the stories initially focused on the continent of Candar. Both Cyador and Westwind were located on this continent. Recluce is a large island off the east coast of Candar, so this choice of setting made sense. Modesitt expanded our understanding of the rest of his world with books set on the continents of Nordla, Austra, and Hamor.
The magic system around which the series revolves, is simple but profound. White magery is powerful at destruction, balanced against black magery that is powerful at preservation. Either can destroy those who use them if taken to extremes. The ultimate order is to stop all motion, while the ultimate chaos consumes all matter it comes into contact with. Used together, the two forces can accomplish even more incredible feats.
Neither Chaos nor Order can change human nature, or our tendencies to be cruel or uncaring of the fates of others. Only good people doing the best they can for one another can make the world a better place. Modesitt’s characters strive to do that, whether they are Chaos Wizards, Order Mages, or Grey Mages.
The Recluce Series showed me how much my reading habits have changed over thirty years.
Despite the great success of the series, and my personal devotion to reading it, the twenty two published books are far from perfect. When I read The Magic of Recluse, I had no idea I would one day write novels. I read for pure enjoyment, and didn’t critique the narrative as it unfolded. I found the most recent book, Fairhaven Rising, impossible to digest without critiquing.
Mr. Modesitt has sold over three million copies of Recluce Books, he can get away with things my critique group would skewer me for writing. The problem for me, is that I have come to expect those things in his writing, and without realizing it at first, I’ve had to edit out my versions of those same phrases and ideas. Maybe when I have millions of copies sold, I can fall back on my heathen, Modesitt ways.
My only real disappointment in the series came from the book, The Wellspring of Chaos. The main character of that book spends a great deal of the first third of the book suffering at the hands of a corrupt ruler’s son. He’s tried, convicted, punished, then released from the local justice system, which is anything but just. Later in the novel he learns that system better than those who administer it, but he never faces off against that system. To a child of the 80’s, it was a missed opportunity to turn the system on it’s head. Damn the man, save the Empire!