01/03/2012. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Subterranean Press. 508 page limited edition signed hardback. Price: $60.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-347-1).
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com
‘The Magic Of Recluce’ by L.E. Modesitt Jr. is the first book in the long running ‘Saga Of Recluce’. It was first published in 1991 and has now been re-issued by those splendid fellows at the Subterranean Press who bring us so many classics. The Saga consists of fifteen volumes so far, telling the story of various individuals in a whole world over 2,000 years. Although many of the volumes are independent and can be read as standalone stories, the author has said that it is best to read this one first and now I have.
Recluce is a large island ruled on the principle of Order. There is virtually no crime, the streets are clean and well maintained, the houses are tidy, the people are kempt and orderly in their routines. It is all very efficient and very boring to young Lerris. It is the way of teen-agers to find everything boring but in a society like Recluce, this attitude is enough to make you a potential outcast. After failing to submit to an orderly apprenticeship as a woodworker with his Uncle Sardit, Lerris is sent to the port city of Nylan to be trained for exile along with several others of his ilk. Having rejected the ways of Recluce, they must be cast into the chaotic outside world lest they breed unseemly disorder at home.
Once trained in combat and geography, the exiles are put aboard a ship bound for Freetown on the continent of Candar. They have one last night in an inn there, an outpost of Order and then have to make their own way. The Black Magicians who maintain order in Recluce are feared in the rest of the world and the people of the orderly Isle are not much liked neither. Moreover, there are powerful White Magicians who use Chaos as their tool roaming other lands. Lerris flees Freetown and heads across a troubled continent. He is still not sure exactly why he had to be exiled and there are clues here and there that his fate is part of a much larger game. Bit by bit, he discovers powers within himself as he undergoes various adventures on his journey.
For a time, he settles down in the town of Fenard as a journeyman woodworker, though his Recluce honed skills put him on a level with the ablest master craftsmen. He tries to support an aging, unskilled Master Woodworker and his lovely daughter, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Order, he finds slowly, is so strong in him that he cannot abide disorder and finds it difficult even to tell lies necessary for his survival.
As the son of a stonemason, I was impressed by Modesitt’s respect for craftsmen and their work. The hewers of wood and drawers of water don’t usually get much attention in fantasy land, what with all those mighty thewed warriors and gilt clad kings roaming about. Modesitt, as he makes clear in an afterword, has always regarded this as a lack and his novels pay close attention to the social, political and economic basis of the societies portrayed. After all, even in the land of Faerie, the people still need food and shelter and wooden chairs on which to rest their mighty buttocks.
Modesitt’s plots are, to be honest, pretty standard fare. The hero faces various challenges, discovers things about himself and struggles to overcome the foe. This is classic story telling and what the reader expects. However, the author has been around a while and has a wide range of experience in real life from Viet Nam to Washington DC to academia. His books are lifted above the average by the depth of thought in them about broader issues. They are worth reading, though they are, like all fantasy novels today, rather too long. I don’t necessarily blame authors for this as publishers may well be setting the agenda.
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