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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Imager's Intrigue" by L.E. Modesitt (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official L.E. Modesitt Website
Order "Imager's Intrigue" HERE

Read FBC Review of Imager
Read FBC Review of Imager's Challenge

After the complete duology Imager and Imager's Challenge that introduced us to Rhenn, one of the most enchanting narrators in recent fantasy, "Imager's Intrigue" continues Rhenn's odyssey through the murky politics and divided society of Solidar as well as his ascent in the powerful but very small Collegium of magicians that both protects and is protected by the Solidar's tripartite powers embodied in the Council.

The first two novels need to be read together since they are essentially one huge book split in two, but the ending of
Imager's Challenge was complete enough to allow lots of freedom for the next book. "Imager's Intrigue" starts some five years after and while building on the events back, is pretty much a standalone with another clear and definite ending.

Since the next
Imager's Portfolio novel will start a trilogy set centuries in the past, there may or may not be more Rhenn novels and while I would love to see more of him, his family and friends, "Imager's Intrigue" is a very satisfying ending for now.

"Imager's Intrigue" stands at about 500 pages and is divided into 70 numbered chapters. There is a list of characters at the beginning of the novel with their rank/title, as well as a map of L'Excelsis the capital of Solidar where most of the action takes place as in the previous two novels.

I actually read
Imager's Intrigue soon after I got it so the glossary was useful; after finishing it I did not want to depart from its wonderful universe, so I reread all the three books in order. While we provided a lengthy overview of the setting in the earlier reviews, I would present a summary here, so people can jump directly into this book if they want.

Solidar is the most powerful country of the world with an early industrial economy - railways, guns, steamers, navy but no real army - over 50 million people and occupying an island continent. Solidar is also the home of the Collegium, where magicians called Imagers for their capabilities of "imagining" stuff in and out of existence reside, while being oppressed or even killed on sight in other countries. Solidar is actually a corporate society based on the balance of power between the land nobility - High Holders - the capitalist entrepreneurs - Factors - and the artisans and worker unions - Guilds - who split the leading Council between them, while the Collegium advises.

There is no representation outside the tripartite structure, women generally have no political rights - though there are ways around and of course they can be artisans or factors like Rhenn's wife and sister respectively - while the poorer people outside of the structure - landless laborers, slum - taudis - dwellers and the like have no direct power outside of rioting, drug dealing and so on...

Solidar's navy tries to keep the balance - free trade, neutrality, no other country getting too powerful - and of course Solidar has the Imagers whose covert branch is not above sabotage or well timed assassinations of foreign leaders that may upset said balance, but who have not used their powers in a scorched earth lesson against another country in a century or so. But times are changing and Solidar's main rival
Ferrum which is an all capitalist state that is fast developing through ruthless competition, has plans.

While defeated 5 years ago by Solidar's navy and stalemated on land by Solidar's backward allies, the Jariolans, Ferrum now has better "land cruisers", better warships and a better plan to throw Solidar into chaos. Since Solidar is a corporate state, there is not really a coherent notion of loyalty or treason, each of three "protected classes" acting first and foremost in its interest and if their Council representatives dare defy that, they tend to have short remaining lives.

Narrator Rhenn stands at the confluence of classes - eldest son of a prosperous "mid-level" factor, artisan - journeyman painter - by training for more than 10 years before he discovered his powerful magic, friend of the younger High Holder generation as per the events in the first two books, Master Imager of the 2nd level and 3rd district police captain on loan from the Collegium.

He is married with well off artisan of Pharsi origins - an enterprising minority, sometimes resented both by the lower classes and by some factors - Seliora who has some magic of her own in foresight flashes and the couple has currently a 3 year old daughter Diestria named after Seliora's larger than life grandmother that was such an important a character in the first two volumes.

"Imager's Intrigue"
is classified best as fantasy thriller with exquisite world building, where the tension that starts from the first page, builds and builds until events start happening fast about 200 pages in and from then on it's a fast, "cannot put it down" kind of ride to the end.

Quietly the Imager Portfolio series has became a big time favorite of mine and the latest addition "Imager's Intrigue" raises the tension, stakes and action levels quite a lot, though I also liked the slower paced first two novels for their superb narrator and pitch perfect world building. Here though we are plugged almost from the first pages into the action, when after five relatively quite years, external tensions are heating up and maybe coincidentally, maybe not, various forms of unrest start spreading across Solidar.

On his daily routine of taking his wife and daughter under heavy personal shields to Seliora's "fortified" compound which is both her workplace and former family home before going to start a new day as police chief of the 3rd district and reading the daily newspapers that mention both the Ferran' s imminent invasion of Jariola and the troubles across Solidar, Rhenn "knows" the quiet times are at an end...

There are local conflicts up to minor bombings between High Holders and the upstart Free Holders - which are part of the capitalist factor class and whose more efficient production techniques leave the less entrepreneurial High Holders behind and in debt - there is a new more potent form of "weed" that even long term users overdose easily on and die, there are explosions in various cities including L'Excelsis, the army and navy are missing gunpowder and bombards and prominent people not least Rhenn are targeted for assassination.

Of course as a Maitre D'Structure, Patrol Captain and reporting also to the Imager chief of operations and 2nd in Collegium rank - Maitre D'Esprit Dichartyn, Rhenn is in the best position to try and make sense of what happens and prevent further havoc.

But the Collegium is used to operate from the shade, Dichartyn and Police Chief Artois need proof, Police Sub-chief Cydarth who detests Rhenn schemes to become Chief since the incorruptibility of Artois did not endear him to the Council and Rhenn suspects Cydarth is up to no good.

The High Holders stand under the specter of losing control of the Council as their numbers are perilously close to dipping below the crucial 1000 mark, there are some rich and powerful Factors who would not mind if Solidar would become more like Ferrum and may even be guilty of treason - whatever that means - and the Guilds want to slow down all mechanized progress - jobs, jobs - even at the cost of the Solidaran Navy becoming outgunned by the Ferrans. The joys of the tripartite structure that served Solidar so well across the centuries, but now under Ferran intense innovation may be its downfall...

So all the ingredients of the high-stakes thriller are in play and "Imager's Intrigue" works perfectly as such with Rhenn almost racing against the time to prevent - well he does not really know what, but his and Seliora's foresight flashes hint at terrible things.

The other
main aspect of the novel is how all the detailed world building from the previous two volumes which essentially powered the books until the final fast and furious action, come together here in a coherent whole and make the continual survival of Solidar - at least as presently constituted - a logical plot point, with all the pro's and con's of the tripartite system mentioned above. So L.E. Modesitt's almost "didacticism" from the first two novels pays off big time since everything that happens here makes sense - however unusual is for us used to unitary states with one main center of power.

And of course there is Rhenn's voice who ultimately makes or breaks the series, but I talked enough about that. If there is one niggle is that many women of the series, including Khethila who is now a "factoria" in far off Kheirseilles - Seliora and Diestra, are less prominent here, though Iryela, Alynkya and the "proto-feminist" writer and activist, Madame D'Shendael have some great scenes and of course there is Master D'Esprit Dyana the 3rd ranking Imager of the Collegium...

An A++ both for the book and for where it took the series,
"Imager's Intrigue" is as perfect a fantasy thriller set in a secondary world as it gets.


Marvin B said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Imager series and would like to see at least one more in the series with Rhenn starting a more intense research and development program to identify and classify the the individual talents of the current Imager population. Not sure that I want to go back and read history.. Would rather go forward..

Liviu said...

I was doubtful about Scholar too, but I enjoyed it a lot; there are some similarities, but Quaeryt has his own personality and he comes as different than Rhenn in many ways, while the world is also different - more primitive to a large extent, especially politically, but quite engaging too.

I would give good odds that you may enjoy Scholar if you enjoyed the Imager trilogy


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