WHAMPF! WHUMPF! WANK and CLANK! L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s “The Magic of Recluce” is more onomatopoeia-friendly than Batman in the ’60s. (Nothing ruins an exciting horseback chase more than the words “cloppedy, cloppedy, dopeddy.”) Also, expect detailed accounts of delicious meals every couple of pages. Not an exaggeration; unless there’s a Game of Thrones cookbook out there (and of course there is) I can’t recall any fantasy book that went back more persistently to the topic of food. YUM YUM MUNCH! If a hypothetical reader can pardon these bizarre, intrusive stylistic ticks (and I couldn’t), then that hypothetical reader can settle in for the first of 18 or so novels in the Saga of Recluce, one of the premiere fantasy series of the ’90s… and one of the least talked about, a mere two decades later.
Told in the first person, in a simple style that avoids the overwrought medievalism of many a Tolkien imitator, this book sometimes sounds like what would happen if Kazuo Ishiguro wrote high fantasy. Young Lerris must choose between the boredom of perfection in the town of Wandernaught, or the danger of excitement in the “Dangergeld.” Of course he chooses the latter, and winds up in a school of magic that presages both the Night Watch and Hogwarts, (there’s even changing portraits on the walls.) During class, clueless Lerrys learns about the evil White Magicians of Chaos vs. the Good Black Magicians of Order, via vague lectures like the one below:
“We were speaking about order, a topic all of you have been exposed to since your birth. Unfortunately, for various reasons, such as Lerris’s boredom, Tamra’s equation of order with male dominance, Krystal’s unwillingness to concentrate, and Wrynn’s contempt for weakness . . . none of you can accept order as the basis for a society.”
This also half works as a manga harem, with Lerris distracted by the many beauties that surround him: Sweet, giggling Krystal; sassy, man-hating Tamra; Wrynn with the nice, strong legs, etc… (There’s boys there too, mainly to balance the sexes in the school roster.)
As I read “Recluce,” however, my mind kept going back to the REAL premiere fantasy of the 1990s, Robert Jordan’s 14 volume epic “The Wheel of Time”- one that some masochistic side of me always yearns to return to. Sure, I COULD be catching up with “A Song of Ice and Fire” (and no, I haven’t finished) but why, when I could be revisiting the impossibly long saga of Rand Al’ Thor, the Dragon Reborn?
As epic fantasy fans of a certain age will recall, Robert Jordan wrote 11 of these nearly-thousand-page skull-bashers before his death, when Brandon Sanderson stepped in to finish things with the three concluding volumes. Some of us still smart about the way HBO turned Jordan’s closest competitor, that slow-poke parvenu George R. R. Martin, into the superstar that broke from the fantasy ghetto. (Only 5 books? Out of a projected 7? You call that an epic, Martin? WIMP!) “Wheel of Time” was there first, building an astonishingly complex and magical reality that felt more adult than most of what had come before. Confession: I must have spent months of high school time reading “WoT” in class, my paperback hidden by some strategically positioned textbook. This may be why I know less about Earthly geography than I know about Jordan’s world, from the Aryth Ocean through Saldaea, Andor, and Tar Valon, all the way to the Spine of the World.
There is nothing like “The Wheel of Time” in all of literature. No other continuous tale can be described as: “The first 6,000 pages or so are fantastic! The next 3,000 slow down a bit, and admittedly, the 2,000 pages after THAT are a repetitive slog, but if you stick with it, the last 3,000 pages get fun again!”
According to Wikipedia, I gave this about 20 days of my allotted time on Earth, and judging by my odd, nostalgic desire to revisit the saga, I may give it FORTY days. Hey, shut up. What are you doing with YOUR time that’s so special? Rescuing babies from burning buildings? Doubtful. I consider all those hours of dorkdom well spent and largely pleasurable. Not that the pleasure was unalloyed: it came with boredom, frustration, and even pain, but isn’t that true of all long-term relationships?
So now I’m worried, because Amazon will be belatedly turning “WoT” into a TV show that, even in the best of scenarios, will be dismissed as “Game of Thrones Without the Tits.” There are, of course, tits in “WoT,” but they’re coily implied rather than shaken in your face. They mostly pop up in one recurring line: “She folded her arms under her breasts,” a gesture that must have been performed literally hundreds of times throughout the series by females, but rarely as a come on, and more frequently as way of expressing complete contempt at some damn fool thing a man just said or did.
Oh, who are we kidding? Amazon WILL throw in the tits for free. It’s 2018!
Anyway, this is all to say that “The Magic of Recluce” led me to read “New Spring,” a prequel to “The Eye of the World” that I had missed, and one of the last things Jordan wrote before his death. Set 20 years before the series proper, and shortly after the Aiel War, “New Spring” follows Lady Moiraine Damodred and her quasi Sapphic friend Siuan Sanche as they start as novices at the White Tower, then are chosen by the Amyrlin to pass a Ter’Angreal trial in order to become Aes Sedais of the Blue Ajah. Also, Moiraine learns that the Dragon is Reborn within sight of Dragonmount, so she leaves Tar Valon in her quest- and along the way she bonds her ass-kicking Malkier Warder, Lan Mandragoran.
Yeeeeeaaaahhhh… You might need a Glossary if that is your first spin of the Wheel.
RATING: SHRUG for “The Magic of Recluce” (maybe I’ll return in the future?); GOOD ENOUGH for “New Spring.”