The Saga of Recluce

The Saga of Recluce

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 "Mage-Guard of Hamor" on July 2008.

The 15 books of the series describe the changing, often confrontational, relationship between two technologically advanced cultures, representatives of which have been marooned on a previously uninhabited world and regressed to 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 all its protagonists.

The series is somewhat unusual in that it was published well out 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 strongly recommends reading the books in publication order.) As of the thirteenth novel, "Ordermaster", the saga covers six different time periods and eight 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.

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, potters, 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.


These are listed in order of publication: the author has insisted 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)
#"The 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)


All of the novels take place in the same fantasy universe, spanning a period of over 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.

Working order magic in Recluce does not come without a price. Excessive use of magic can (and often does) lead to blindness, deafness, and premature aging. Items that are held together with infusions of order magic can tend to fall apart when the infuser dies, though order-strengthened metals do not seem to suffer this drawback. Chaos magicians tend to have their magical powers increase as their age and control of the magic extends, but at the same time the forces they control weaken their surroundings and tend to make their bodies decay at an accelerated rate. Some chaos wizards can transfer their soul, consciousness, and powers into another younger, less experienced wizard's body of either school of magic.

Those beings who possess this magical ability are all descendants from a group of people that are not native to the world in which the series is set. We learn of their origins mostly through legend, though The Fall of Angels provides a brief glimpse of the home universe for these beings. They are members of two opposing factions, which call themselves the Rationalists and the Angels. These factions are technologically advanced, spacefaring people who are fighting 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. One group of Angels is caught in a high energy explosion during a battle, but instead of being destroyed, find themselves stranded on the unknown universe on the planet with the island of Recluce. Once there, the angels (those of a particular race, the Sybran) begin exhibiting various talents that would ultimately become order magic. Through various legends and history tales, we learn that a group of Rationalist (sometimes referred to as "demons" as their existence becomes legend) has already landed in this world, centuries ago, and evolved into the chaos mages. Both groups then pass on this ability to their offspring. Ultimately the "Angels" and "Demons" would both become legendary figures.


Chronologically, the series spans 1,855 years ref|chrono. 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 technological knowledge, these beings create a huge empire called Cyador, on the continent of Candar. (It should be noted that, while the series is named after the continent of Recluce, that island is not even inhabited for nearly a millennium after the story begins.)

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 the one of the world's continents, the Rationalists 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 order mages and the female dominated city of Westwind. Of note are two specific angels, Nylan and Ryba, who would become legendary figures in coming novels. Ryba develops a talent for prophecy and authors extensive writings that are quoted by future generations as The Book of Ryba, while Nylan develops the foundations of order magic. 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.

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 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, 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 attempts 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 mage named Cerryl as he rises in the ranks of the white mages. He is constantly fending off attempts on his life from the extremely powerful mage Jeslek, who has begun to literally raise mountains from the ground to protect the paved highways the chaos mages 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 mages, ultimately leading to mages like Jeslek with phenomenal power. 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-spelled wood and metal that 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 mages, then returns to Recluce to become the first "order engineer". 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 "Natural Ordermage" takes place. 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, whose order skills first begin to show when he is an apprentice scribe on Recluce, winds up in the infamous Luba ironworks. Eventually he becomes one of the few ordermages in the emperor's mage-guards, even uncovering deception and traitors in the force itself.

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. 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 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 a mage which spans the continents of Nordla and Austra. Again, while nothing of historical note happens in these stories, they flesh out two of the areas of the world that were mostly ignored in earlier novels and provide an introduction to 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 Justin, 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 young order mages, especially those who are in some way rebellious or dissident. While there, 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 meet, 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, 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 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.


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 on screen. 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.

It is also notable that 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.


* [ Chronology] on the author's official website

External links

* About the [ Saga of Recluse] series at the [ publisher's official website]
* [ Listing] at SciFan

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