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Wellspring of Chaos (Saga of Recluce) Hardcover – April 17, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The prolific Modesitt's 12th Recluce fantasy, his first since 2001's Scion of Cyador, delights from start to finish. In the city of Brysta on the island of Nordla, Kharl, a cooper, has a prosperous business and a loving, if not perfect, family. He's also a man who can't help doing right, no matter the cost to himself. He soon pays a heavy price for twice offending the local lord's dastardly son by his good deeds: first, he rescues a neighbor's daughter from two upper-class louts trying to rape her; second, he saves the life of Jenevra, a Recluce blackstaffer (or mage), after she's attacked and left in the street to die. When someone later cuts Jenevra's throat, Kharl is arrested for the crime, but at the trial he can only watch as the local lord arranges to have the cooper's wife hanged for a murder neither of them committed. Hounded from the only home he's known, Kharl ends up on the run with only a few coins to his nameand Jenevra's staff and book. Kharl's slow transformation from family man to lonely wanderer, from solid citizen to wanted outlaw, from simple right-thinking craftsman to fledgling order-master and wizard, makes for a relentless and absorbing story. In a genre saturated with callow youngsters who grow into heroes, Modesitt effortlessly builds an epic adventure around an ordinary, middle-aged man. This marks a welcome new chapter in the Recluce saga, with the ending all but promising a sequel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Modesitt returns to the world of Recluce. Kharl is the best cooper in Brysta, one of the cities of Nordla, and except for his adolescent sons, leads a life as reliable as one of his barrels. His troubles start when he rescues his neighbor's daughter from assault and then helps a young rape victim from Recluce. His consort is unhappy about the latter--premonitorily, for when the young woman is mysteriously killed in the cooperage, Kharl is arrested, tried, and flogged, but his consort is hanged for murder, which she didn't commit. The corrupt son of the local lord is to blame for that injustice, which shortly precipitates Kharl's loss of the cooperage and flight for his life, as well, accoutred with the murdered woman's black staff and her copy of The Basis of Order. Modesitt's excellent new story has thought-provoking underpinnings that will snare newcomers as well as old Recluce hands, who will slot it into Recluce chronology some 60 years after the fall of Fair(ha)ven. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Collectively the Recluce series builds a cohesive world, spanning many centuries, multiple lands, and both sides of the central division between two forms of magic: black/order (usually the good guys) and white/chaos (usually the bad guys). I particularly like how the books include the less grandiose side of life: from Kharl the cooper, to carpenters, sailors, smiths, mill boys, scriveners, traders, and even, in some depth, how Fairhaven's sewers work. While the setting doesn't approach the mythic magnificence of Tolkien's Middle-earth or Le Guin's Earthsea, it comes to feel solid and real and satisfying, and I'm looking forward to returning to it ... just as soon as I finish the other novel that I've been reading ("Ninefox Gambit" by Yoon Ha Lee).
However, of all the Recluce novels, I find Kharl to be one of the most likeable characters. He's not a teen tormented with angst and confusion about everything, he's a solid, practical and honorable man with considerable integrity, thrust will he nil he into many difficulties. He seems like a normal every day working class guy, just trying to do the right thing! While the Story follows a general Modesitt template, and (despite it's considerable length) many things are a bit oversimplified as one goes along, it's quite readable, and enjoyable, and truly one of the better of the Recluce series. Personally, I hope Mr. Modesitt writes further about Kharl, although I expect he won't.
While the overall plot remains much the same as the earlier books, there are at least a few important changes from those earlier books. Kharl suffers losses and wrongs not experienced by any of the earlier Recluce protagonists. He is a mature man, not the callow youths we have seen earlier. And his experiences take place in Nordla and in other parts of the world that we've not seen before. But along the way, fans of the Recluce series will encounter familiar characters: Talryn from "The Magic of Recluce," Justen from "The Order War," and several others. "Wellspring of Chaos" occurs some years after the destruction of Fairhaven at the end of "The Order War" and not too long before the events of "The Magic of Recluce."
It's good to see Modesitt stretching a little bit. It would be better to see him stretch a little more. But the story is fun, and the ties into the earlier stories - the destroyed tower of the Duke of Lydiar, for example - is seamless. You don't have to know a thing about the Recluce series to enjoy this book, but if you are familiar with the series you will be delighted at the sly references.
There will plainly be a sequel; Modesitt gets suitable mileage out of a good character. I look forward to it.