The Magic of Recluse is a 1991 Epic Fantasy novel by L.E. Modesitt Jr. It was recently for sale as a Humble Bundle. I picked up the bundle because I recognized the author’s name, but I hadn’t read any of his works.
The Magic of Recluse centers around the story of Lerris from the land of Recluse who is often bored with the demanding perfectionism of his land. Every craft and trade must live up to the level of “perfection”. Lerris is sent to live with his uncle, a woodworker because he considers his mother’s pottery trade to also be boring. Within a few months, his skills grow and he learns to be proficient with woodworking as an apprentice, but he doesn’t care about perfection in woodworking because it too is boring.
Perfection is important because the philosophy that drives his community is that perfection is order. Order is innately good while chaos is evil. The land of Recluse will always keep order and reject chaos at all times. It isn’t long before Lerris is sent away from his uncle to be trained or exiled from the land. He must either learn what it means to fully embrace order in all things or be exiled for life. This begins the main story arc of the book.
I have to say, first of all, it is fantastic that Modesitt did not fall into some of the more common tropes. Lerris has potential but he is not the “chosen one”. There is no chosen one. He is also not a Mary Sue. He must slowly learn and grow to achieve his potential. However, Lerris himself is boring and a little entitled. When his family and teachers try to get him to find answers to his questions through study, experimentation, and experience, he whines that they won’t just tell him all of the answers directly.
While the character of Lerris is fleshed out, most of the side characters are flat and barely more than NPCs. Only his horse has more characterization than a paper cutout.
The order/chaos magic system is vague but tries to be deep and while I can’t say that I expect the complexity of Robert Jordan, it still seems to be half-baked. To understand the magic system, you have to delve deeper into the order/chaos philosophy that is presented and it just doesn’t hold water philosophically from a real-world point of view. What is considered order and what is considered to be chaos seems to be arbitrary at best. Perhaps Modesitt focuses on and cleans up this system in other books, but here it is messy and sometimes illogical.
I give The Magic of Recluse 4/10. It is not a boring book nor is it difficult to get into. When he’s not whining, Lerris is a good person, is likable, and he cares about people. However, when compared to other fantasy books that were being produced at the same time, The Magic of Recluse just doesn’t hold up as a book that should be remembered as something amazing.