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Literature / Saga of Recluce

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"The Magic of Recluce" Art by bogdev

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 recently released Outcasts of Order in June 2018.

The 20 books of the series describe the changing, often confrontational, relationship between the genetic descendants of two technologically advanced cultures, representatives of which have been marooned on a sparsely inhabited planet and regressed to the level of the existing inhabitants' primitive technology. Themes of gender stereotyping, prejudice, ethics, economics, environmentalism and politics are explored in the course of the series, which examines the world through the eyes of all its main characters.

The series is published outside 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 strongly recommends reading the books in publication order.) As of the sixteenth novel, Arms-Commander, the saga covers seven different time periods and ten major storylines. 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 referenced as heroes or mythical figures in other, chronologically later books. Additionally, certain characters appear in multiple books even if they aren't the main protagonist in that particular novel.

Modesitt's fantasy novels are known for their unusually rigorous system of magic, in contrast to typical fantasy universes where magic is ill-defined. Within the Recluce universe, magic is manifest as a person's ability to harness the natural order or chaos inherent in matter. The feats of magic that are possible rely on the user's understanding not only of order or chaos, but in the interaction between the two and how they occur in balance in nature. Modesitt is unusual in fantasy writing in that he shows how the use of order and chaos affects all aspects of society. For example, his order wizards have jobs—they are carpenters, coopers, smiths, and engineers—all areas where order gives an added understanding. The chaos wizards are mostly enforcers, but can take on tasks like road-building when it is in their interest.

The Series so far:

  1. The Magic of Recluce (Year 1850)
  2. The Towers of the Sunset (Year 900)
  3. The Magic Engineer (Year 1200)
  4. The Order War (Year 1605)
  5. The Death of Chaos (Year 1855)
  6. The Fall of Angels (Year 401)
  7. The Chaos Balance (Year 403)
  8. The White Order (Year 1190)
  9. Colors of Chaos (Year 1205)
  10. Magi'i of Cyador (Year 1)
  11. Scion of Cyador (Year 8)
  12. Wellspring of Chaos (Year 1710)
  13. Ordermaster (Year 1712)
  14. Natural Ordermage (Year 1500)
  15. Mage-Guard of Hamor (Year 1503)
  16. Arms-Commander (Year 415)
  17. Cyador's Heirs (Year 425)
  18. Heritage of Cyador (Year 433)
  19. The Mongrel Mage (Year 675)
  20. Outcasts of Order (Year 677)
  21. The Mage-Fire War (Year 679)
  22. Fairhaven Rising (Year 695)

The series provides examples of:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: With few exceptions, pure chaos mages are generally unpleasant, corrupt and power-hungry.
  • Anachronic Order: If you read the books in order of their release, you'll be jumping back and forth from past, to future, and back, many times before you're done. The order above is the list by their publish dates followed by their year that the events occur In-Universe. Modesitte jumps back and forth over almost two millennia.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Quite a few relationships are either this, or are hinted to be this before being subverted. The most notable straight example being Creslin and Maegera, whith Lerris and Tamra being a notable subversion.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Lerris and Rahl, among other examples.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Order mages have a very difficult time with any sort of deception, even withholding the truth causes them pain and discomfort, although some become practiced at the art of deceiving with incomplete truths.
  • Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good: The "black" mages are the ones who use order, and are unable to do violence or kill without suffering painful headaches and blindness. Meanwhile, the "white" chaos wielders can pretty much be guaranteed to be the villains of the story.
    • The black mages can't even tell a lie without suffering stomach cramps.
      • Of course, none of this prevented Recluce from using terrorist tactics against civilians in a duchy of Candar in the very first book, nor engaging in piracy in the later books. The suffering of associated order magi is their cross to bear alone.
    • The Backstory also had "demons of light".
    • The stories do give us the occasional sympathetic chaos user, but repeatedly emphasize that, by the nature of their power and the way it corrupts them, they are very rare.
  • Dull Surprise: More or less sums up the range of emotions most of the main characters display.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Figures heavily into the climax of The Order War.
  • Fiery Redhead: Played straight and subverted repeatedly throughout the series. The author seems to really like redheads.
    • Maegera from Towers of the Sunset is a very literal example while she is still a Chaos wizard, throwing chaos-fire at the slightest provocation.
    • Dorrin from The Magic Engineer on the other hand, is a complete subversion, being generally the most passive and level-headed character in the book; although he can be quite formidable once his anger is roused.
  • Figure It Out Yourself: The Saga of Recluce has a particularly ridiculous case of this. Order mages are usually "trained" by being given a near-incomprehensible textbook and sent off into danger. Why? Because, for no apparent reason, actually explaining things prevents mages from applying what they were told. Even though the explanations make perfect sense to the reader.
    • It's like Zen Buddhism. They need to understand the concepts on a deeper level than simple knowledge. It's a basically a giant book of Koans.
    • In a few places it's stated that this isn't so much the normal method of training an Order Master so much as whichever mage we happen to be following is an exceptionally tough nut to crack, and wouldn't listen to advice even if it was offered.
      • It's also a method of limiting the number of Order Masters. Due to the balance of chaos and order, a concentration of one will cause a concentration of the other. By offering prospective Masters minimal guidance so they will instead pursue other crafts, the chance of a chaos concentration forming is reduced.
    • Of course, the so-called book is really just the disorganized ramblings of another exile who came home, whom they decided was a genius without his consultation.
  • Food Porn: Lavish detail is often given to the food served in the books.
  • Good Is Boring: Lerris's complaint in the first book, to such a degree that it renders him a destabilizing influence (due to his innate magical ability) and the Black mages have to send him into exile to 1) teach him that boring is good, 2) get his destabilizing influence out of their kingdom, and 3) incidentally kill a powerful chaos wizard without getting directly involved.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: This and Fiery Redhead figure prominently throughout the series; and are repeatedly played straight, inverted, subverted, and twisted around various ways that indicate a significant Author Appeal.
  • Knight Templar: Both Order and Chaos users get presented in this way, albeit the mages of Recluce are presented more sympathetically. In the first book, it's repeatedly emphasized that the protagonist, Lerris, is the son of, essentially, the leader of the nation and he's being sent into exile as an example that no one is above the law in Recluce. Just in case you miss the hints early on that Lerris is simply ignorant of his father's position (because all Order mages live by I'm Not a Hero, I'm...), his love interest spells it out halfway through the book to emphasize to a royal court how seriously Recluce takes their laws.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...:
    • Most of the main characters are exiles from Recluce (or in one case, Westwind), because they develop strong Order magic powers. They consistently resist being labeled as "order-masters", but insist they're just simple woodworkers/blacksmiths/engineers/etc.
    • Through two of the three books he appears in, Justen continually insists that he is not a druid, even after having passed their magical trials to become one. He eventually capitulates and accepts the designation, though only with qualifications (a "sort of druid").
  • In Harmony with Nature: Central to the series.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The rules of what can be done with order and chaos magic are rigorously defined, and the author seldom breaks his own rules.
    • New variations of the magic seen in subsequent books often focus more on deeper understandings of how the two forces interact and combine, often verging on what appears to be a magical variant of molecular physics.
  • The Magic Goes Away: In The Death of Chaos, the final battle between the order users and chaos wielders results in magic being rendered unusable for an indefinite amount of time - possibly for hundreds or thousands of years.
  • Medieval Stasis: Averted in some respects, played straight in others. The books span more than 1,500 years of history, and while there is progress in some respects — steam engines, firearms — in other respects, society and technology are exactly the same in the final story as they were in the first.
    • There's a good reason for said stasis in this case. Much like how the ancient Greeks had invented a steam engine but never really found a purpose for it because they had slaves to do most of the work, the mages in the world of Recluce get by just fine on magic, somewhat obviating the need for technological development. And considering the way some bits of technology affect the balance, there's actually kind of a disincentive to develop anything really complex.
    • Further, there are extremely practical reasons that certain advances we made in technology cannot be used. Firearms, for example, could be disastrous from a tactical standpoint when one relatively weak chaos user (not necessarily even powerful enough to call them a mage) could heat the gunpowder, and internal combustion engines generate raw chaos, which is much more powerful in the universe of Recluce than ours. There's a reason that most technology that actually get used requires black Order-imbued iron, and using too much of that creates Chaos concentrations elsewhere in the world. A major criticism of Recluce is that their over-concentration of Order is responsible for the constant war and other social evils of Candar.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The driving force of the stories; an emphasis is placed on finding a balance.
  • Recycled INSPACE: Horatio Alger stories WITH MAGIC.
  • The Red Mage: Some mages are capable of tapping into both order and chaos, and are called "gray" mages, or druids. They generally are more powerful than all-black or all-white. The only two white mage main characters in the novels, Lorn and Cerryl, are both actually grey - they can both wield order powers.
    • The incomprehensible textbook for white mages points out that you'll just blow yourself up with pure chaos. All chaos mages use order to channel their chaos. This doesn't make them grey in the same way the druids are grey.
    • Maegera is described in the books as grey, because she is able to move from using Chaos magic to using pure Order magic. Aside from the druids, the only truly grey mage is Justen. Earlier grey mages are described as "unstable", and tended to have shorter lifespans than even Chaos wizards.
  • Shown Their Work: All of the Order mages have mundane day jobs, as mentioned above. The author clearly did the research on their occupations; and his depictions of their activities demonstrate this in excruciating detail.
  • Summon Everyman Hero: Suggested.
  • Worldbuilding: Modesitt creates a world and history as detailed and realistic as Frank Herbert's Dune, or Larry Niven's Known Space.
  • Written Sound Effect: Used with restraint for the most part, though in a few books things like chewing, drinking, and doors being opened and shut all have their own sound effects, used frequently.

Alternative Title(s): The Saga Of Recluce