The Recluse fantasy series is another epic saga of 12 books (and counting?) that along with the much longer and more popular Sword of Truth series and the Wheel of Time compendium make me think that fantasy sagas have to be long to be read :-). While there are a few exceptions to the rule, most notably The RiddleMaster books, even that is a trilogy (or is it four books?) and length seems to be the measuring rod of popularity for this genre. The Recluse books however do not continue the same story unlike the two sagas mentioned above, they are but books set in the same universe.
However, length is not a measure for quality. The SoT and WoT series of books are apt examples on what not to do with a fantasy series. While the Wheel of Time dragged on and on and on until lovely characters became caricatures of themselves, the Sword of Truth series became so idealistic and objectivistic so as to make me puke. There were a few excellent books in both the series, but every time the authors came up with additions to an already long story, rehashes of the same theme became more commonplace, and the story seemed to be going nowhere. There is nothing that can disillusion fantasy fans more than a still story, and both these very promising universes seemed to have stood stock-still for some time now. The Recluse series, as I mentioned above, does not fall into this trap, and since it does not have the same characters for every book, there is an element of fresh air that makes some quirks palatable. There are still rehashes of the same plot, but it is much more bearable.
Enough of the introduction ;-). Recluse is a world based on Chaos and Order. Chaos is white – since it’s a chaotic mixture of all colours, and Order is black – since it doesn’t have any impurity at all. There are wizards – Chaos masters and Order masters who wield these opposites and fight each other until someone comes on top. At least, that’s the basic premise. One of the interesting things about this series is the “science” in it. Chaos and Order are very strongly explained in the context of the series, so much so that the rules in this universe become believable. While it is slow going, particularly at first, slowly as Recluse becomes clearer, we can understand the workings of order and chaos much more clearly as well. This much of a strong explanation for magic is one of the best things about Recluse. If you can get through the first few hundred pages of the book, you’ll soon find the characters very interesting.
Our hero is Lerris, a boy from the island of Recluse in this world who has been rejected by the people on the island because he thinks Order is too “boring”. Recluse is built on Order, and since it does not allow a foothold to chaos, Lerris has to undergo a dangergeld – a sort of trial – so that he can prove himself and come back to the island. It seems a straight-forward story when I tell it like that, but the plot thickens from the very beginning, and it is a confusing read if you’re a speed-reader and looking just to finish this book. This is a book that must be taken slow and slowly dissected. Lerris has many adventures, and the book has a satisfying ending, but even the first few pages would tell us that the world of Recluse has enough material in it for a hundred books or more, and a few sequels bunched in :-). I liked this book.