L.E. Modesitt, Jr., begins a new series in the same vein as Recluse. The parallels with Recluse are undeniable and formulaic, but they're also the reason that the Recluse series is successful. Remember, when we first read The Magic of Recluse back in 1991, a primary point of interest was introducing a system of magic without actually detailing how it worked, first. We discover, along with the protagonist, how it works, oh, so very slowly.
The same thing happens, here. We have a protagonist in a coming-of-age story. He doesn't fit in where he is, and his adventures consist of his finding his own way. I won't explain the magic, because that would spoil the book for those who are interested. Suffice it to say that it's very subtle, and the plot is suitably more subtle than those of the Recluse books.
Another large part of the fun in a new series such as this is gaining the flavor of a new imaginary world. This is almost-France in the Renaissance. A keen reader will recognize famous names, slightly modified, such as Descartes and Poincare. A strength of the author's approach is the detail with which he describes the environment, the food, the art, etc., giving the reader sufficient detail to imagine what the world is "really like." Of course, while such is a strength in the eyes of some readers, others will find this approach to be tedious and boring. If you like reading fantasy novels in order to explore a new world, this is right up your alley. If you prefer your fantasy to be more like Indiana Jones or Star Wars (the movies, not the mishmash of the extended universe), with fast-paced action without requiring much background detail, then you'll not appreciate this story.
Another forte of Modesitt's is the combination of magic and philosophy. In this universe, the philosophy is more separate (Recluse's order vs. chaos had very moralistic overtones, in which chaos-wielders tended to be evil, for example). The philosophy here is an exploration of people, principles, and social interaction in general.
Modesitt's primary weakness is also evident, here: the character development isn't as good as one might wish, for a novel that introduces a new world. With good character development (e.g., David Eddings' Belgariad), a reader will quickly get a sense of liking and disliking certain characters, and after time, will feel as if one actually knows these very real people. Modesitt's characters, while not undeveloped, still feel like abstractions, slightly too perfect, with no real sense of humor or jocular interaction taking place between them. In all physical, philosphical and artistic aspects, Modesitt's creations feel real and alive - but the people feel a bit more "animatronic".
I give the book 5 stars, however, because my standards for character development are very high, and I am -so- relieved to read a fantasy story without vampires, without werewolves, and without having it turn into a "romance novel" for a few pages, I can forgive this novel for not meeting this particular standard of excellence.