Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Review: The Magic of Recluce

Fantasy writers rarely like to write about Wizards as protagonists, preferring to keep the workings of magic secret and mysterious so they can use magic as a Deux Ex Machinas to pull characters and plots out of the hole fantasy writers so often find themselves in.

L.E. Modesitt, however, takes a different approach in this excellent first novel of the Recluce series. The protagonist is a disaffected youth, sick and tired of the incredibly boring society he grew up with, and questioning every thing his elders tell him to do. The society of Recluce, valuing order against all else, decides to exile him after his apprentice-ship, ostenibly because he seems to be too dissatisfied to fit in, but later, as he discovers, for some political reasons.

At this point, a typical novel would have him journey on a quest, take up apprentice-ship with a Wizard, or go to Wizard school, and then take up the fight against some great evil. Modesitt eschews all that, and gives Lerris an incredibly vague set of directions from his exilers, and gets him in trouble one after another until Lerris decides to resign from it all and take up wood-working, the apprentice-ship he had given up on at the start of the novel.

Even funnier, Lerris was given an extremely boring manual by his father on his departure from Recluce, and this turns out to be an incredibly important book that Lerris in his inability to handle boredom, ignores until pointedly told otherwise by another friendly Wizard.

The characterization is done extremely well, though I question the realism of a teenager behaving as wisely as Lerris does. Then again, as a coming of age novel Lerris' maturation is quite something worth reading, and I enjoyed his realization that answers have to be found, not given.

Highly recommended as a great coming of age novel, as well as an interesting approach to magic that works as both puzzler and problem poser. I will pick up the next book in the series eagerly.
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