Pic of the day: Where it all begins ... the first Recluce book. As you can see, it's not me who cannot spell. Perhaps it is a chaos spell?
Magic of Recluce
I have occasionally bought books by L.E. Modesitt Jr and enjoyed them all. But not to such an extent as to actively seek out more of them. Until now. The only series I have looked into so far are Soprano Sorceress and Recluce. Each of them features a distinctive magic system, which is part of their appeal to me. I love good magic, in fiction at least. Good worldbuilding is right up there with good characterization and probably more important to me than plot. To me, fantasy books are more like role playing games than movies. I want to be able to roam around in their world, not just have a story told to me.
The two first books I read in the Recluce universe were The Chaos Balance and Magi'i of Cyador. This was months ago. Lately I have added The Magic of Recluce and The Death of Chaos. The books do have some common ground. Modesitt's heroes are only slightly larger than life; in fact, they generally try to be ordinary people. But the great needs they see force them to go beyond their usual limits and do the seemingly impossible in order to save what is precious to them.
The magic system of the world of Recluce consists of black magic and white magic, except not really. Their roles are roughly reversed, only not quite. Order magic is associated with darkness, the color black, healing, strengthening and lawful good. Chaos magic is associated with light, fire, the colors white and red, infection and evil. There exists an unavoidable balance between them. Increasing the amount of order in an area will also strengthen chaos in the general vicinity, although this could happen in a neighboring country rather than your own. So while the large island of Recluce is under the rule of perfectionist order masters, the neighboring small continent of Candar is home to steadily new chaos wizards.
There is a correlation between chaos and evil: The typical criminal tends to display a large amount of chaos. But order is not necessarily good. Good people tend to be orderly, but order can also be used for more subtle evil, such as oppression. The island of Recluce is nearly a paradise compared to the surrounding continents, but people there live strictly regulated lives and there is a steady export of malcontents who prefer the freedom of the more chaotic lands.
As in most fantasy settings, the talent for magic is much stronger in some people than in others, and it seems to be an inherited trait. In fact, most people cannot sense the magic at all. But their lives still affect it. People who live chaotic lives are vulnerable to chaos and make their society susceptible as well. (Which is why Recluce is so close to being a police state: Unless everybody aims for perfection, the country becomes vulnerable to its chaos wielding neighbors.) Since infection is an expression of chaos, an orderly life presumably protects the body as well. Certainly some order masters live surprisingly long lives, while chaos wielders tend to die young.
I find that the magic system is somewhat similar to the one in my Lightwielder stories, except that the colors are reversed. Then again my stories are inspired in part by actual religions, which are kinda in the public domain in this regard. It is no big surprise that some of the concepts are picked up by Modesitt too. What is somewhat surprising is his reversal of light and darkness. It does add uniqueness, but it is also psychologically dubious. We humans are made to live our active lives at day, having one of the best eyesights of any mammals. Our nocturnal senses, smell and hearing, are rather poorly developed in contrast, and darkness was not considered a safe place by our early ancestors. To have darkness and black be the colors of health, strength and protection requires a much stronger factual underpinning than Modesitt has undertaken. But that is a minor complaint. The books are still enjoyable, and also very decent (family friendly) for the genre. Recommended.
Visit the Diary Farm for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.