on February 22, 2004
In The Magic of Recluce, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., there was one startling thing about how it was written that certainly shocked me at first, and for good reason. This was that it was all written in the first person narrative style. A long while ago, I had read another book in the first person style, and I thought it was great. The Magic of Recluce certainly does not disappoint. It is a great book that I highly enjoyed, and I think that Modesitt is a great writer, and the first person narration only adds to that. It not only put you right in the action by putting you behind the character's senses and feelings but also gave you a far more intimate knowledge of the character than even third person omniscient is capable of. That was truly a defining feature of the book, and I highly enjoyed reading that. In fact, I probably would have enjoyed reading the book had the plot been junk but the first person narration was kept firmly intact. Further, it was something unique in a rather run-of-the-mill time for the excellent genre of fantasy. It was finally something different, both in its great plot and its superb use of the first person style of writing. All things considered, the book was excellent on its own rights, and Modesitt did a great job making use of a unique and often overlooked literary device in excellent ways. A wonderful start to what should be an excellent series.
on February 22, 2004
In The Towers of the Sunset by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., there was one thing that really leapt out at me from the absolute beginning: the book was written in the present tense. Obviously, my first reaction was one of confusion. It was strange seeing a book written so after I had been so long reading traditional novels in the past tense. It kept throwing me off to be reading it like that for the first twenty-five pages or so. But soon I developed a keen liking for it. I thought that using the present tense made the book much more exciting, putting you in the action instead of making the reader a bored spectator to the book. I truly admire Modesitt for going out on a limb like this. I think that it takes a lot of guts for an author to do something like this, especially in today's overly confined and narrow-minded society. Also, it did a great job of making this book stand out above all others. I read this book a while ago, but it's still vivid in my memory due to its radical and noteworthy style of writing. Chances are that I will remember this book for years to come, both as the absolutely excellent narrative that it was and the exquisite and daring foray into the present tense. Overall, this was a truly excellent book that I would recommend without any hesitation.
on December 1, 2003
I picked up this book 11 years ago (1992) after having read most of TSRs Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms offerings. It was not what I expected. Unevenly paced, but compelling and real, this novel drew me along and helped me deal with some of my real life issues.
Although I lost track of the series after the second volume (so many books so little time) I had such fond memories that I read it again (2003), and still found it enjoyable, with some caveats:
- As other reviewers have mentioned, Modesitt spreads onomatopoeia a little too thick.
- In places the grammar is so bad that it interrupts the flow of the story, though that may be evidence of a clumsy editor and not the fault of this seasoned author.
- When he deals with secondary characters' plotlines he shifts entirely out of the story's first person past tense mode into third person present tense - very distracting to some readers.
- Although large portions of the book are devoted to describing woodwork there are only three woods mentioned in the book: lorken, oak and pine. Of these three only one is ever used as a building material. That's just plain sloppy research, unless I'm missing some deeper symbolism in his use of three colours of oak: white, red and black...
- Some portions of the book appear to have been "cut and pasted", with identical descriptive passages appearing in several different contexts.
The book's emphasis on independent thought, hard work, and honesty, and its exploration of themes of the balance between order and chaos, and good and evil make it an excellent coming of age story.
Strongly recommended for readers aged 16-20.
on March 12, 2003
Pro - original magic system. Order vs. Chaos and how those two "powers" exist with one another
Con - every now and again the author switches tenses with certain characters which throws off the flow of the story. Like feeling a spider crawling on you and you brush it away because it is irritating but you still have some chills and goosebumps afterwards. Meaning it is liveable but you don't want to feel it again. This I've read is the biggest complaint with book 2...so I'm going to avoid that book
Pro - I didn't know what to expect...just as the main character doesn't have a "real" clue as to what he is to do next, neither did I as the reader. This was handled well, kept the suspense and kept me guessing
Con - Like others have mentioned the emulating of sounds got old. At first it was funny, then cute, then irritating, then I just ignored the sounds because it was boring.
Pro - I didn't want the story to end!! Story, characters, and the world created were all very enjoyable. Can't ask for much more than that.
on January 8, 2003
It was the cover art that first caught my eye, it was beautiful. This book is very descriptive but at the same time it can also be very boring. This is not the stories fault no, not by any means the story itself is in depth and descriptive. I loved the story when I finally found the time to finish it.
My main complant is about the main character "Lerris" I found him to be an annoying dork. This again is not his fault I probably would be as boring as Lerris had I grown up in a land as self righteous as Recluce.
It seemed to me like whenever the story threatened to pick up speed or become interesting such as the conflict between the White wizards and the Grey Wizards Lerris would start whining about how bored he was with everything. We have to endure 300 pages of him listening impatiently to his teachers. I mean if he can do it better then everyone else why doesn't he shut up and movie the story along.
My Impression-The story is good and other books in this serise are indeed excellent(I started I reverse order) but if I have to deal with "Lerris" for another book I think I will skip "towers at sunset". The Villians were fleshed out and all charecter were taken as far as they could go. It was refeshing to see a practical approach to magic
on July 2, 2002
Modesitt's main strength in this novel is the ability to closely relate the reader to the main character, Lerris, through good use of narrative, dialogue, and first person perspective. Having said that, I enjoyed the simplicity of the story, and it was nice to get away from the usual "forces of evil out to destroy the world" treatment that is so prevalent in fantasy these days.
Unfortunately, Modesitt's weaknesses here bear the mark of the amateur writer, and, frankly, I'm amazed that this story was published in it's current form.
The author periodically jaunts into interludes with other characters, switching from first person, past tense, to third person in present tense. The change in tense annoys me, and I feel that it disrupts the flow of the story. I don't believe that narrative written in present tense has a place in fiction, and I found myself skimming or even skipping sections of the interludes. Even had the interludes been written in past tense, I don't think that the additional narrative contributed enough to the novel to make the distraction from the main story worthwhile.
Modesitt's second, and much more glaring, stylistic no-no was the constant use of sound effects. Sound effects are fine as part of dialogue; people actually speak that way, but the use of sound effects in narrative is the mark of poor writing, laziness, or both. Well-written metaphors and adjectives can convey the same meaning and provide a clearer image of what's happening without annoying the reader. To the author's credit, the volume of sound effects decreases noticeably as the text progresses.
Last and least, Modesitt's descriptions in the first half of the book tend to be sterile, especially the descriptions of places and rooms. The descriptions may provide technical details to the reader (length and width of the room, number of doors, etc), but they fail to convey much feeling about the setting. These sections, too, I frequently skimmed, as I sought where the dialogue picked up again.
Just as with the sound effects, however, as the story progressed, the descriptions improved substantially, and by midway through the novel, the author began showing a more polished understanding of how to describe the setting.
Overall, Modesitt's easy grasp of dialogue and clear understanding of Lerris's character made the story work, but the author's stylistic choices were questionable at best. "The Magic of Recluce" could have benefitted from another rewrite or two.
The novel still interested me enough that I picked up "The Towers Of The Sunset". "The Towers," however, appears to be written entirely in third person, present tense, and seventy pages into the story, I'm having a very hard time relating to any of the characters. I keep reading, wondering, "Where's Lerris, and when is Modesitt going to switch tenses again?" For the first time in years, I'm tempted to put down a book.
on June 5, 2002
I was browsing at [a local store] looking for a good fantasy, which I have had trouble finding since finishing WoT and Tolkien. I was looking for a large series to feed my hunger for an in depth world and a large set of adventures when I stumbled upon L. E. Modesitt Jr's first book in the Saga of Recluse series.
It started out slow, describing the young main character's plain life in Recluse. From that point on the story only gets better. I immediately fell in love with the main character's lazy attitude, and his irritation at things he did not comprehend. His character is very real, and it is easy to relate to his thoughts and feelings.
Keep reading this story and you will find out that there is a whole world of complex cultures and kingdoms, and all is balanced on an intriquite system of order and chaos that questions the morals of society. Now to the part that horrified me.
After dedicating a day or two to this great read, I discovered something horrible from a review about the second book. The novels continuously go back in time, which is a great idea, but I was so ready to get involved with the same character who had become a reality throughout the story, and going back in time involves new characters. Other than that the fantasy was great, the world was huge, and the characters and cultures were complex and detailed.
The Recluse series seems to be one of those fantasy serieses that you either loathe or love. I found the first book "Magic of Recluse" to be moderately entertaining, if overlong and full of annoying little quirks.
The hero, Lerris, is bored. In general. Living on the hyper-ordered isle of Recluse is not the best enviroment for a talented young man who wants a little more variety in his life. The dictatorial Masters insist on perfect order, as Order is the only way to defeat destructive Chaos -- and in their eyes, boredom and lack of direction are prime openings for future chaos. After a brief stint as a woodworker, Lerris is given a choice: either be exiled from Recluse, or the dangergeld, a complex jaunt in the outside world that allows him to learn more about it. He chooses the dangergeld, and trains for a while under the masters. Two of the people he meets are Krystal, a giggling swordmaster, and Tamra, a very proud man-hater.
Lerris sets out to learn more, with only his pony as his companion. Along the way, he encounters the gray wizard Justen (normally they come either as black/good, or white/bad). As he becomes enmeshed in the local politics and is hounded by whitecloaks (and does more woodworking), he learns that a white wizard named Antonin is trying to spread chaos for his own gain.
I wanted to enjoy this book, but found myself rolling my eyes too often. Modesitt has an intriguing idea concerning magic, order and chaos, but he often seems to be a little confused about how it could work. (One wonders if he had it plotted out when he began) It's also nice to finally find a book series that does not have a parade of ripoff Tolkien creations, but bothers to just add some "differentness" to human cultures, even if they are mildly generic in their inception. I also found it very amusing that Modesitt took the care to explain why Recluse and the surrounding lands are living in a medieval enviroment, rather than having more modern technology.
The hero, Lerris, is a nice piece of work. A bored teen is hardly a new idea, but Modesitt manages to make him sympathetic by emphasizing the stifling nature of Recluse's culture, not being too ham-handed as he does so. And while Lerris is somewhat short-sighted and self-pitying at the beginning, he is no longer at the end of the book. The surrounding characters, except for the crabby woodworker and Justen, are pretty 2-D. There is some mild hormone-related incidents, including a bunch of hookers beckoning to Lerris and a friend, but this book would be fine for young adults.
One annoying detail is sound effects. "Cheezy" is the best way to describe these; fans of the old Batman TV series will probably be giggling whenever Modesitt inserts one of his sound effects. He doesn't seem to believe that the readers will be able to imagine for themselves what creaking floorboards, whinnying horses, and the sound of clattering mugs sound like. The sound effects aren't even accurate. I have never heard thunder "thrum," horses "whee...ee," or a door "itttcccchhh." The repetition will also annoy some people, as horses don't "whee...ee" just once, but dozens of times.
Another annoying detail is that Modesitt doesn't bother to describe the fight scenes. He gives us a string of sound-effects, and then refers to one of the people involved dying. It's very hard to visualize, which is doubly odd because of the effort expended giving us the sound effects. One of the last pages also has the weirdest, most obliquely-written love scene I have ever read. I literally did not know what was happening until I had read it several times. (What am I supposed to think when I read about "her hands didn't stop at my fingertips"?)
Was a nice light read, but could have been much better if someone had attacked it with editing shears.
on April 5, 2002
The title of this review is the sound allegedly made by Gairloch, the pony; it is the most frequent "word" used in the book. Along with it come the assorted thumps, bangs, clangs, and wooshes alluded to by other reviewers. I assume that someone persuaded Mr. Modesitt to stop writing these silly sound effects in later works. I can't imagine why he used them in the first place.
Mr. Modesitt faced the inevitable problem of handling magic by inventing a very complicated order/chaos system. It is so complicated that no one can fully understand it, including Mr. Modesitt, who in this his first book is clearly making it up as he goes along. It befuddles the reader.
Lerris is an unsatisfactory hero. He is very stupid for the first part of the book; then, as he realizes he is a master at casting this confusing "order magic" (which he actually understands as little as do the reader and the author) he seems smarter but is still annoyingly self-critical and self-deprecating. I am all for decent humility but I do not especially want the 'hero' to keep calling himself an idiot, as Lerris does.
There is much too much space wasted on the intricacies of woodworking, although if Mr. Modesitt is not himself a woodworker he deserves high marks for all the perceptive observations he makes about that craft. But we do not read heroic fantasy to study woodworkers, now, do we, Mr. Modesitt?
Mr. Modesitt rather cheats when it comes to describing single combats; we are rarely told what actually happened. Here, in its entirety, is a fight between two great swordmasters (pp. 120-121):
"The man's blade flashed, impossibly quickly. Yet, in scarcely moving her own blade, Isolde somehow deflected the attack.
Blades caressed, never meeting directly, edges sliding against each other.
The Duke's champion lay face down on the pier, separated from sword and life."
He might just as well have written, "They fought and she killed him."
I cannot rate this book very highly, although it did prove involving enough so that I read it all, which is more than I can say for Jordan and McKiernan. But I won't be reading the rest of the series, I'm afraid.
on January 3, 2002
After reading every one of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books it's difficult to find a decent book to read. I was recommended this series. They said that it was a [copy] of Jordan, yet it was good. Though I don't see the resemblance between The Magic of Recluse and The Wheel of Time, this first book is still good. The slow start put me off a bit, but it was enjoyable enough to keep me going. It did not take too long for me to become engrossed in Lerris' "apprenticeship" with the gray wizard Justin. The rest of the story was easily read.
There are a few times where I detected L. E. Modesitt Jr. poking fun at not just the fantasy genre but also the way most authors write. For example, many writers will have their characters sit around a campfire and ridiculously explain the entire world for no good reason. L. E. Modesitt Jr. does the opposite, no one tells Lerris anything at all. Then Justin scolds him for not knowing anything. Obviously (to me) L. E. Modesitt Jr. has some opinions about what makes a book believable. But his methods aren't much better, except for the fact that he denounces the bad methods employed by many authors. Still, I appreciate the effort. I hope he gets better at finding new ways to solve the old problems, rather than giving up and just accepting the solutions created by past writers.
I cannot give it 5 stars for it's technical errors, of which there are many, but inconsequential. I did not buy the clever magic system completely. Some of it is flawed. For example, contrary to most magic systems, white is evil and black is good. I find this intriguing (again he is being different) but it's not quite right. L. E. Modesitt Jr. explains his color system by saying that light is chaos (it isn't---light is extremely ordered) so it must be evil. Yet he doesn't realize that white clothing reflects light so by his logical system, chaos masters should wear black, not white. Still, this is a minor error, for which I can forgive (with a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief). But it does, with the help of L. E. Modesitt Jr.'s ridiculous sound effects, drop off a star. (If you want well placed and subtle written sound effects, read Drowned Hopes, by Donald E. Westlake.)
So, The Magic of Recluse had a slow but enjoyable start and introduced some new intriguing ideas. Then it got more enjoyable as the protagonist gained more and more knowledge. It's common human error flaws are forgivable, but the magic system needs work. I understand he does fine tune the magic system in his later books. I'll have to judge them when I get to them. But for the meantime, The Magic of Recluse gets [four stars] from me.