The Saga of Recluce
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The Saga of Recluce is a series of fantasy novels written by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. The initial novel in the series, The Magic of Recluce (from which the series derives its name), was published in 1991. The series is still in publication with the latest, Heritage of Cyador, published in November 2014. In 2015 Modesitt stated that the then 18 novels in the Recluce series had sold nearly three million copies.
The 18 books of the series describe the changing, often confrontational, relationship between the descendants of two technologically advanced cultures, representatives of whom have been marooned on a sparsely inhabited world and regressed to the level of the existing inhabitants' primitive technology. Themes of gender stereotyping, sexism, ageism, racism, ethics, economics, environmentalism and politics are explored in the course of the series, which examines the world through the eyes of its protagonists.
The series is published outside of internal chronological order. The first book published in the series occurs near the end of the overall story, with subsequent books jumping further into the past to expand on elements of history. The author recommends reading the books in publication order. As of the eighteenth novel, Heritage of Cyador, the saga covers eight different time periods and eleven major story lines. The stories demonstrate the progression of real-life events into myth and legend over the progression of centuries, as the characters in one book will be known as heroes or mythical figures in other, chronologically later books. Additionally, certain characters appear in multiple books, the protagonists in one novel, appearing as a supporting characters in others.
Within the Recluce universe, all matter has inherent properties called "order" and "chaos". Magic manifests as a person's ability to manipulate these properties through thought. The feats which are feasible depend on the user's (genetically limited) potential, on developing those abilities, and on the laws that govern the interaction and balance between the two forces in nature. Generally, those who manipulate order are called (black) mages. Those who manipulate chaos are called (white) wizards. Rare individuals (grays) can manipulate both. There are personal costs to using magic, both immediate and long term.
These are listed in order of publication: the author has stated that this is the appropriate reading order.
- The Magic of Recluce (1991) ISBN 0-8125-0518-2 (US paperback), ISBN 1-85723-201-1 (UK paperback)
- The Towers of the Sunset (1992) ISBN 0-8125-1967-1 (US paperback), ISBN 1-85723-230-5 (UK paperback)
- The Magic Engineer (1994) ISBN 0-8125-3405-0 (US paperback), ISBN 1-85723-272-0 (UK paperback)
- The Order War (1995) ISBN 0-8125-3404-2 (US paperback), ISBN 1-85723-377-8 (UK paperback)
- The Death of Chaos (1995) ISBN 0-8125-4824-8 (US paperback), ISBN 1-85723-386-7 (UK paperback)
- Fall of Angels (1996) ISBN 0-8125-3895-1 (US paperback)
- The Chaos Balance (1997) ISBN 0-8125-7130-4 (US paperback)
- The White Order (1998) ISBN 0-8125-4171-5 (US paperback)
- Colors of Chaos (1999) ISBN 0-8125-7093-6 (US paperback)
- Magi'i of Cyador (2001) ISBN 0-8125-7948-8 (US paperback)
- Scion of Cyador (2001) ISBN 0-8125-8926-2 (US paperback)
- Wellspring of Chaos (2004) ISBN 0-7653-4808-X (US paperback)
- Ordermaster (2005) ISBN 0-7653-5089-0 (US paperback)
- Natural Ordermage (2007) ISBN 0-7653-1813-X (US paperback)
- Mage-Guard of Hamor (2008) ISBN 0-7653-1927-6 (US hardback)
- Arms-Commander (2010) ISBN 0-7653-6353-4 (US paperback)
- Cyador's Heirs (2014) ISBN 0-7653-7477-3 (US hardback)
- Heritage of Cyador (2014) ISBN 0-7653-7613-X (US hardback), ISBN 0-7653-8190-7 (US paperback: November 3, 2015)
All of the novels take place in the same fantasy universe, spanning a period of time greater than a thousand years. Within this universe, all matter is made up of two competing forces, called order and chaos. In their natural state, these two forces are equally matched, in a condition called Balance. These two forces can be seen as fantasy representations of the natural entropy (chaos) that occurs in matter, balanced by the various molecular forces (order) that bind matter into structured forms. These forces are known at a basic level by all inhabitants of the world, typically referenced by the colors of white for chaos, or black for order. This is explained in the first published novel as being that white is the chaotic combination of all wavelengths of visible light in the spectrum, where black is the absence of this light.
Certain individuals within the universe possess the innate ability to manipulate one or both of these forces. For example, chaos users ("white" mages) can draw the natural chaos from the surrounding area and focus it into bolts of flame; order users ("black" mages) can infuse additional order into metal and wood, making them unnaturally strong. Additionally, both types of magicians tend to possess the ability to discern the chaos emanating from people who are being deceptive.
Rarely, there are individuals who possess the ability to manipulate both order and chaos. These beings are referred to as "gray" mages, though the majority of them become Druids. These mages are among the most powerful in the series, possessing the ability to prolong their lives nearly indefinitely, and use both order and chaos to perform awesome feats of magic.
The manipulation of these forces does not come without a price: The excessive chaos that surrounds most chaos mages accelerates the deterioration of everything around them (example: wine turning to vinegar almost before the mage has a chance to drink it). Those wizards who channel chaos through their bodies (this being nearly all of them) have markedly reduced lifespans, inversely proportional to the amount of chaos that he or she can raise (although some have found ways to circumvent this). Additionally, any creature, human or animal, that has been exposed to constant chaos (such as those that live in Fairhaven) that comes into contact with an ordered object will experience a "burn" (like when a person touches an extremely cold object), the severity of which is directly proportional to the amount of chaos residing in said creature. For White Wizards, this contact is often fatal. The wielding of Order also has its cost, although it seems to be a more reactionary one than that of the whites. Many of the protagonists of the Order discipline find ways to harness their own particular abilities for use in combat, but, when they do so, they experience disorientation or even sensory deprivation from the chaotic backlash resulting from the casualties they inflicted (whether directly or through objects of their creation or design). These protagonists eventually come to realize that the severity of this disorientation is linked to the amount of chaos that their actions have created, and, when they use their order skills to assist the action, the rebounding chaos often will cause blindness for a period of time that lengthens with the severity of chaos released, as well as for each time this happens.
Those beings who possess this magical ability are all descendants from two groups of people that are not native to the world - or the universe - in which the series is set. We learn of their origins mostly through legend, though Fall of Angels provides a brief glimpse of their home universe. They are members of two opposing factions who landed on the planet 400 years apart, the Rationalists ("Rats") and the Angels. These factions are technologically advanced, space-faring people immersed in a prolonged war. There are a number of obvious similarities between the Angels' weaponry and order magic; similarly the Rationalist weaponry is very similar to chaos magic.
The story of the Angels begins when one of their warships, the Winterlance, is caught in a high energy explosion during a battle; instead of being destroyed, the ship and its crew are transported to an alternate universe where their technology no longer functions. The Angels are hence forced to land on the planet containing the island of Recluce, and once there, begin exhibiting various talents and physical changes (such as hair colour) that would ultimately become linked to order magic. Through various legends and history tales, we learn that a group of Rationalists (sometimes referred to as "demons" as their existence becomes legend) had already landed in the same world, centuries ago, and developed into the chaos mages. Both groups then pass on their abilities to their offspring. Ultimately the "Angels" and "Demons" would both become legendary figures.
Chronologically, the series spans 1,855 years . The story actually begins well before even the earliest novel, with the arrival of the "demons of light" from another universe. Using their manifest chaos powers as well as their advanced technology, these people create an empire called Cyador, on the continent of Candar. While the series is named after Recluce, that island is uninhabited for the first millennium of the story.
The first two books, chronologically, are Magi'i of Cyador and Scion of Cyador, which describe the operation of the Cyador army and its battles against the natives of Candar. These novels primarily serve to flesh out a formerly unknown part of the history of the universe. The story does establish one key element in the history of Cyador: the ultimate decline of the advanced technology of the Rationalists. Initially, upon landing on a mostly-uninhabited part of one of the world's continents, the Rationalists (later known as Demons) managed to create a number of advanced mechanical devices, powered by chaos. They also erected a number of collection towers that were used to focus chaos into these devices. By the time of the first novel, these towers are failing, and the empire is losing the ability to maintain its advanced technology. The opening of Magi'i of Cyador is usually considered "Year 1" in the history of Recluce.
The Fall of Angels, 400 years later, details the arrival of the Angels and the founding of the female-dominated city of Westwind. Unlike the Demons, the Angels manipulate order. Of note are two specific angels, Nylan and Ryba, who would become legendary figures in coming novels. Ryba develops a talent for prophecy. Her extensive writings are quoted by future generations as The Book of Ryba, while Nylan develops the foundations of order magic. Nylan also fathers the child Weryl. In The Chaos Balance, Nylan leaves Westwind for a more direct confrontation with Cyador. By this time, the fire-wagons and fire-lances that were once central to the empire have vanished, and the empire is fully dependent on its chaos mages. The ultimate result of this confrontation is the founding of the Druids, which take up residence in a magically active forest called The Accursed Forest by the natives, but The Great Forest of Naclos in later generations.
Set ten years after the events in The Chaos Balance, Arms-Commander follows the story of Saryn, the head of the guards of Westwind. She tries to protect Westwind, as political and military problems build in the surrounding countries of Gallos, Lornth, and Suthya. In this novel, characters indicate that almost 10 generations have passed since the reign of Lorn in Cyador.
500 years after the arrival of the Angels, in The Towers of Sunset, we find Cyador gone, replaced by a council of white mages ruling eastern Candar. Westwind is the bulwark of the matriarchal societies of Western Candar which hold to the Legend of Ryba. Westwind is under threat from the white mages of the city of Fairhaven, which exerts a great deal of influence over the male-dominated lands of Eastern Candar. A very strong order mage, Creslin, who is suggested to be the son of Weryl and grandson of the first "black mage" Nylan, flees the women-centric Westwind prior to an arranged marriage, only to be pursued by the white mages who fear his strength. He ultimately escapes Candar, having married a chaos mage in the process, and sails to the uninhabited island of Recluce. Here, Creslin begins a society based entirely on order magic. We also begin to learn the dangers of widespread order or chaos magic, as Creslin's unskilled efforts to make Recluce habitable cause severe weather crises elsewhere in the world, including massive storms, hurricanes, floods and droughts.
Several hundred years later, the chaos mages in Candar have managed to conquer almost the entire continent. Beginning in the year 1190, The White Order and Colors of Chaos depict the progress of a young chaos wizard named Cerryl as he rises in the ranks of the white wizards. He is constantly fending off attempts on his life from the extremely powerful wizard Jeslek, who has begun to literally raise mountains from the ground to protect the paved highways the chaos wizards have been creating across Candar. At the same time, in the year 1200, The Magic Engineer details the journey of Dorrin, an order mage from Recluce. This is the point, both chronologically and to the reader, where the importance of balance between chaos and order starts to become apparent. (There are some hints in this regard in the first novel, but here the underlying causes are explained more fully.) Creslin's attempts to focus order around Recluce have led to an abundance of "free chaos" elsewhere in the world. This has led to increasingly stronger chaos wizards, ultimately leading to the formation of a 'chaos-focus' in the mage Jeslek, granting him extraordinary strength. This, in turn, is allowing more order to be focused in Recluce, until something catastrophic happens to reset the balance.
Dorrin begins using order magic with his innate engineering talent to create steam-powered machines from order-infused wood and metal. These are capable of containing large amounts of chaos energy. Of particular note are the extremely fast and powerful warships that Recluce begins to build, after Dorrin demonstrates their usefulness. The vast amount of order concentrated in these ships will accelerate the growth of chaos in the world. Dorrin spends some time in Candar fighting off the white wizards, then returns to Recluce to become the first "order engineer" and founds what later becomes the major city on Recluce, named after Nylan from "The Fall of Angels". Meanwhile, Jeslek is ultimately destroyed in his confrontation with Dorrin, leading to Cerryl becoming High Wizard and attempting some measure of truce with Recluce.
In 1500, the story continues with Natural Ordermage and Mage-Guard of Hamor. It deals with the familiar motif of exile for a budding mage as yet unable and/or unwilling to control his newfound powers, this time on the continent-country of Hamor. The switch (which is a Modesitt trademark) from a pro-Recluce viewpoint to one inside the heretofore vilified Hamorian empire provides a probing look at prejudice, and also lays bare the conflict and corruption within the Recluce society and organizations at that time. Rahl, an apprentice scrivener with no taste for responsibility or accountability, is discovered by the magisters of Recluce to have an inordinately strong grasp of certain order abilities. As their methods are not suited to instruct one such as him he is exiled to Hamor. Caught in the middle of a conspiracy immediately after his arrival, Rahl soon finds himself in the infamous penal ironworks of Luba only to escape them when his abilities surface. As a mage-guard of the Empire he finds himself forced to become more than he was in order to survive first as a patroller and then as an officer in an army during a civil war.
After centuries of relative peace, in 1650, The Order War depicts the progress of two order mages from Recluce, Justen and Gunnar, as they attempt to defend the last free country in Candar from the white mages, who have begun to use order-based soldiers to add to their own defense while simultaneously increasing their own chaos powers by increasing the amount of order in the world, as according to the plans of Cerryl from "The White Order" and "Colors of Chaos." During their journey, Justen transitions himself into a gray mage, and is ultimately driven into the forest of Naclos, where he becomes a Druid. We also meet several legendary figures, including Ayrlyn (the wife of Nylan and one of the original angels) and the still alive Weryl, and learn how the Druids' mastery of both order and chaos has enabled them to keep their bodies alive for thousands of years. Justen leaves the forest and returns to fight the chaos mages, and uses his newfound knowledge of order and chaos balance mastery to form a tremendous weapon. This weapon unleashes the apocalyptic event that has been building for centuries, drawing on vast amounts of both order and chaos to utterly destroy the chaos mages' capital city and kill nearly all of the powerful chaos mages in the process. The result of this is a dramatic reduction in both free order and free chaos in the world.
Another diversionary storyline begins in 1710, with Wellspring of Chaos and Ordermaster depicting the life of an unlikely mage named Kharl. This storyline (which spans the continents of Nordla and Austra) tells the story of Kharl's transition from cooper to order-mage. Kharl becomes a powerful self-taught order-mage, an unlikely hero, and reputedly the most powerful black mage outside of Recluce during this time period. The two books flesh out the resistance of Nordla & Austra to the Empire of Hamor's attempts to expand their influence on the two continents. Notable characters from previous books of the series make brief appearances, including the gray wizard Justen. The two books flesh out two of the areas of the world that were mostly ignored in earlier novels and provides insight into the evolution of the Empire of Hamor, which plays a prominent part at the end of the series.
The final part of the saga occurs in the year 1850 and begins with The Magic of Recluce. Gunnar, who has kept himself and his family alive using druidic techniques taught by his brother Justen, sends his son Lerris (who is unaware of his father's history and his own magical potential) to Candar to undertake a rite of passage commonly administered to dissatisfied individuals living in Recluce, especially those who have an affinity or ability for either order or chaos. While exiled to Candar, Lerris meets his uncle Justen, and comes to understand his father's ulterior motives for sending him off. Centuries of dominance by Recluce and their order engineers has once again led to increasingly more powerful chaos mages in Candar, with one in particular threatening to cause trouble on the scale of the white council. Gunnar has sent Lerris to Candar with the suspicion that a strong order mage and strong chaos mage will ultimately be drawn into direct conflict, and that Lerris would take care of the problem without Recluce being directly involved. Lerris ultimately defeats the white mage and settles down in Candar to live as a woodworker.
The climax of the story, 5 years later, in The Death of Chaos sees the powerful Empire of Hamor, the oldest inhabited continent in the world, has been using the relative instability of the rest of the world to consolidate its power. In the final climactic battle on the shores of Recluce, Lerris and his family use their mastery of order and chaos to forcibly impose a balance on the world, unleasing vast amounts of subterranean lava directly into the ocean beneath the invading Hamorian forces. In the end, Lerris uses the vast amounts of order in Recluce to bind all of the free chaos into small, balanced units (again, strongly reminiscent of particle physics). The result is the destruction of nearly all of the order and chaos magic in the world, including Lerris's family (which was being kept alive by magic) and even parts of the continent of Recluce itself.
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One of the most notable aspects of the first book, The Magic of Recluce, was its unusual first-person viewpoint. The story is told from the perspective of the lead character, Lerris, but will switch to third person for any scenes in which Lerris is not involved. Many critics found this style of writing difficult to follow.
Some critics have become unhappy with perceived repetition; one fan sarcastically described the series as "Horatio Alger meets sword and sorcery." In particular, the stories of Lerris, Creslin, Dorrin, Cerryl, Lorn, and Rahl all seem to follow the same basic mold, of a young mage forced to "find himself" while learning to harness his power in ways other people discourage. Modesitt disputes this, claiming that (including his multiple non-Recluce novels) that "more than 60% of my books feature characters... older than 30 and more than 40% feature characters older than 40". He credits the criticism to a belief that "people confuse characters who learn something with young people discovering themselves".
Many of the elements of this series reappear in Modesitt's other popular series, The Spellsong Cycle, including the appearance of outsiders from other worlds with profound magical ability, as well as the reuse of the "ultimate weapon" used by both Justen and Secca in their respective climactic battles.
- Modesitt, L.E. "Bibliography". http://www.lemodesittjr.com. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Modesitt, Jr., L. E. (2015-04-21). "Perspective on the Hugos". lemodesittjr.com. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Modesitt, Jr., L. E. (September 2009). "Your Questions for the Author Answered - September Questions". lemodesittjr.com. Retrieved 5 December 2009.