L.E. Modesitt, Jr. writes The Sage of Recluce series of fantasy novels. I read these for the first time back in the late 90’s (I believe that only the first five or six books were out at the time, but I haven’t checked the dates yet), and I remember seemingly enjoying the series at the time. I recently decided to give the series another read-through, especially now that many new books have come out since I last read them (the series totals 15 books so far). Here’s what I discovered (in freeform thought mode). As always, there are spoilers for the entire series below.
1. Modesitt likes to write the same basic story for every one of these books. If the names of main characters were hidden, and the plots condensed down to their finer and most necessary points, the books would almost all be indistinguishable from one another.
2. The editors of the series are terrible. I thought the editing in the first editions of The Wheel of Time was bad, with repeated words, bad punctuation, and sentences that rambled on for entire pages, but at least it appears that Jordan paid his editors to do something. In reading Recluce, in the first book, I was able to count multiple grammatical and clerical errors within just the first few chapters.
3. Modesitt seemingly has a very strong sense of order as to what should happen in his series and how things have come to pass. The books are written out of chronological order, but the books do connect very well in the sense that when reading, one can see how the events of one book helped shape the events of another.
4. Modesitt has a very strange view (or at least, fictionalizes a very strange view) of what “right” and “wrong” are in terms of sexism, racism, and discrimination on superficial aspects. His books often take a very black-and-white approach to who is in the right when it comes to issues of gender equality.
5. Dialog is interesting to read. Modesitt takes a very unique approach to dialog, presenting it almost as though the reader were a listener in a tavern, only hearing small pieces of conversations instead of full sentences and ideas. It’s very interesting, especially looking at the dialog enough to realize that subtle clues about the story are actually being put forth in many of these instances.
6. The obvious answer is not always the correct answer. This is one of the best aspects of the series. In the first book (which happens near the very end of the chronological sequence of events for the series), Order is put forth very much as equivalent (or very close to) “Good,” while Chaos is very much put forth as “Evil.” Over the course of the series, however, we are introduced to the concept of the Balance, and how both forces are necessarily equal in strength, nature, design, and purpose. This comes to play in extremely catastrophic ways by the end of the series.
7. Modesitt is a very communicative author. He will answer email queries and talk about his series, the characters, and the reasons for why he does things. He is possibly the most accessible author I know other than Brandon Sanderson.
With all that being said, what do I think about Recluce and Modesitt? I think they’re a[n] (mostly) entertaining read. Also, in a genre that for too long has always been about “Good Versus Evil,” and some “Dark One Rising,” they are a very refreshing change of pace, with no obviously and glaringly evil overlord, and no heroes who are so purely good that they glow. Some complaints about the series are that they’re a bit too repetitive in terms of scope and plot, and while I see that argument, I do believe that with each novel, Modesitt brings something new to the table and to the mythology he has woven. I believe he is a strong and solid author, who has good ideas, and often good follow-through on those ideas. For those looking for something other than standard “Good Vs. Evil/Light Vs. Dark” fantasy, this is a place worth starting.