E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce hit the bookstores in 1991, Gordon R. Dickson praised it as "Fascinating! A big, exciting novel of the battle between good and evil, and the path between." Now, seven years and seven novels later, I'm tempted to say that Dickson woefully understated the case. Modesitt's Recluce series set in a parallel earth-like world where magic and technology conspire and conflict in a constant struggle between chaos and order is more than a story about the battle between good and evil. The saga of Recluce is as rich and complex a creation as Tolkien's Middle-Earth. If you are just tuning in on Modesitt's work, The White Order (eighth volume in the series, with at least one more, Colors of Chaos, upcoming) may pose a bit of a puzzle to you. Its major storyline seems painfully simple: Young Cerryl, orphaned when white mages from Fairhaven killed his amateur-magician father, discovers that he has inherited his father's talent. But the powerful White Order of magicians keeps a close watch on those who experiment with the white magic of chaos, and when Cerryl attempts to find out more about his powers, he is apprehended and brought before Sterol, High Wizard of the Guild. Sterol decides that Cerryl deserves training rather than death although as Cerryl learns during the course of his studies, training in white magic may result in death, if the student mage is not careful. Underneath this story of initiation, however, the novel resonates with echoes of an elusive past and foreshadowings of an uncertain future. Cerryl's education both in magic and in the art of survival offers the first-time visitor a tantalizing, but incomplete, glimpse into a world where much more is happening than appears on the surface.
However, if you are already familiar with Modesitt's Recluce saga, then The White Order is one more fascinating piece to the jigsaw-time puzzle which Modesitt is painstakingly assembling. Indeed, as those who have read at least as far as The Magic Engineer (volume three) have already encountered, in that flashforward episode in the series, an older, more adept Cerryl is one of the council of White Magicians seeking to destroy Recluce. Up to now, both in flashbacks and flashforwards, the conflict in this parallel world has seemed to be between "good" order and "evil" chaos.
With the present novel's focus on Cerryl's training in White Magic, Modesitt changes this emphasis. In doing so, a brilliant new facet appears, best expressed in this passage:"All life composes itself of chaos and order. Yet too many forget that without chaos there is no life. . . . The very light of the sun is white chaos. . . . Within the very sunlight are all the colors of white, the pure chaos from which springs all life. . . . To claim that order is the staff of life. . . is not only false but folly, for the sole perfect order in life is death."I suspect that the saga of Recluce has many more puzzles to solve not least of which is whether, in Modesitt's parallel world, chaos and order will survive in a delicate balance or annihilate each other in one final, agonizing confrontation. Reviewed by Robert C. Jones.