The nice things about L.E. Modesitt Jr.‘s long-running RECLUCE series is that once you are familiar with the timeline you can reread them in pretty much any order you like. There are never more than two books with the same main character. Mind you, for the first read-through, publication order is still the best order to read them as Modesitt refines his Order/Chaos-based system of magic over time. Once in a while I reread one of these books; I call this my random RECLUCE rereads. All of the early RECLUCE books are written from the Black, Ordermage side of things. Starting from the 8th book onwards (The White Order) Modesitt changes the series around on the reader and writes four books with a focus on White (Chaos) oriented characters. These are some of the most interesting books in my experience. The Magi’i of Cyador is the third book seen from the Chaos perspective, the tenth in publication order, and the first in the RECLUCE chronology.
The main character of Magi’i of Cyador and its sequel Scion of Cyador is Lorn. When we first meet him Lorn is a young man with an inherited talent for Chaos magic. Lorn has even more potential than his well-respected father, but magic is not his passion. His teachers and his father note this, and while his results are impressive it becomes clear a future with the Magi’i is not going to happen. Lorn has quite a few activities outside the closed Magi’i caste. One of them involves Ryalth a pretty, young, and ambitious woman of Merchanter heritage. Lorn intervenes when she is assaulted and is instantly attracted to her. Gradually he learns there is more to Ryalth than just good looks.
When his father has finally had enough, Lorn is sent to officer training with Cyador’s Lancers, bringing involvement in Ryalth’s mercantile ventures to an abrupt end. It also puts him in a very dangerous position. Several generations earlier a Lancer with Chaos-talent usurped Cyador’s malachite throne and the establishment does not look kindly upon that period in their nation’s history. Lancers with magely talents are supposed to die bravely and preferably early on the field of battle. Lorn is faced with the impossible task of surviving assignments with high mortality rates as well as keeping his relationship with Ryalth alive.
As usual the worldbuilding is excellent. Magi’i of Cyador is the first book in the RECLUCE chronology but it refers to an even earlier, very important event. In Fall of Angels we get to see how the Black Angels, the champions of Order magic, crash on the world of Recluce and found the nation of Westwind. In following book, The Chaos Balance, which has close ties to Magi’i of Cyador, we then learn that their arch-enemies the Rationalists have already visited the place and that the nation of Cyador is a remnant of that. Magi’i of Cyador puts the founding of the nation by the ‘firstborn’ approximately two centuries before the opening of the book. Many readers have asked for that particular story but as far as I can tell Modesitt has no plans to write it.
I also very much liked the way Cyador and its politics are described. The nation is run by three powerful groups, the Mages, the Lancers and the Merchants, each indicating their own heritage by a different suffix. This small elite is overseen by the emperor and rules over a large population in what at this time is the most powerful and advanced nation of the world. Much of this power is based on the technology of the first born. It is used for Chaos-powered transport, weapons, and above all wards to keep the great forest in check (again a link with The Chaos Balance). This technology is failing and can’t be replaced, giving the whole society something of the feel of an empire in decline. This feeling is reinforced by many of the powerful characters clinging to past glory and technological achievements that can no longer be matched or maintained. It’s a very well-realized setting.
Lorn is not the first military man Modesitt has created in his books and I doubt he will be the last. There are a number of parallels with the story of Alucius, the main character of the first three COREAN CHRONICLES books, for instance. Modesitt has been accused of being repetitive on more than one occasion and I must admit, I find the differences in the protagonist’s characters minimal at times. I like what Modesitt did with Lorn, though. Especially early in the book Lorn is not a nice guy. In fact, he is something of a sneaky bastard most of the time, not shying away from violence or even murder when it suits him. It is a trait he never entirely loses even as the stakes rise throughout the book. Even if Modesitt’s characters think of ethics a lot, some of their actions are questionable. The author always carefully inserts various shades of grey into his stories and in this particular instance he succeeds very well.
Modesitt gave the series a good shake up with the White/Chaos oriented books, something the series needed. I don’t think he could have gone on as long as he did by just writing from the Order side of things. In fact, I would not mind if he wrote another White story. This book is among the best in the series and I very much enjoyed this reread. So much so in fact, that I was tempted to pick of Scion of Cyador right away. I’ll leave that for some time next month though; there are some other books I’d like to read first. A sixteenth RECLUCE novel, Arms-Commander, was published in January 2010. It was set a number of years after The Chaos Balance and features a female main character: a first for the RECLUCE series. Some people think the series has gone on long enough but I think I could handle another one.