The hard-won battles fought in Imager’s Battalion have earned the imager Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the stiff-necked Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar’s rule. Joined by his pregnant wife, Vaelora, who is also Bhayar’s sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers, deep into the hostile lands once ruled by the tyrannical Rex Kharst.
And that’s part of the rather chatty blurb. I read the first three books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed them, then lost track of the subsequent books – until I noticed this one on the shelves. So I haven’t read Imager’s Battalion – if you have, then I’d skim-read the first chapter which effectively fills in the subsequent storyline. I’d like to say it wasn’t rather clunky – but it was. However Modesitt’s normally smooth prose resumed once we dived into the main story.
I like the way Modesitt builds up the world by the constant dripfeed of small details as his main character, Quaeryt, tries to get through this adventure without getting himself killed. While keeping the inevitable death toll down… It’s always a challenge depicting a really powerful protagonist with awesome abilities without it becoming an anti-climax. After all, if you have the capability to collapse buildings and sink ships, then you’re not exactly vulnerable, are you? So why would the reader really care? Except – I did. I really wanted Quaeryt to succeed in his dream of a united continent where the downtrodden peasants who make up the majority of the population would have a chance of a fairer life. Where the law protected everyone – not just the rich and powerful. Where imagers would have a safe, stable retreat where they could hone their skills and live with others of their kind, rather than become powerful tools of tyrants, constantly under threat.
As well as his ideals and his guilt at the deaths he’s caused when unexpectedly finding himself serving in the army – the other attractive trait Quaeryt displays is his love for Vaelora. She has unique abilities of her own that haunt her, the gift of being able to see into the future. It often surfaces at times of stress or great danger as a warning, but Vaelora is terrified of confiding in Quaeryt in case she changes his actions or behaviour such that the future timeline she envisages doesn’t come about… It creates a fair amount of tension between them, despite their obvious affection for each other.
Modesitt is good at depicting a strong relationship without turning it overly sugary – the domestic conflict points and minor disagreements work nicely at highlighting their equality in a world where women are so often abused chattels. It makes the final climactic moments of the book far more meaningful, giving a memorable finish to this accomplished slice of adventure in the series.
Any grizzles? Hm. One that became increasingly annoying throughout the book… As the historical setting is late mediaeval, they travel everywhere on horses. We get details about the weather, the state of the roads, how comfortable and clean their lodgings – and next to nothing about the horses, apart from a couple of throwaway sentences on how fond Quaeryt has become of his loyal mare. Anyone who has ever travelled anywhere on a horse for any length of time will know their temper and pace varies from day to day. This sometimes depends on the weather – they are invariably a lot more skittish on a windy day, or when bad weather is approaching; they will be stiff and sore if the going underfoot is rough; travelling through woods tends to cause them to spook at shadows or unexpected noises; and each animal will have its foibles anyhow. Given how well Modesitt depicts his world through the little things, I found this omission a real shame – it wouldn’t have taken too much more to have added this layer on an otherwise convincing world. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker – I enjoyed too much about this accomplished addition to the Imager series.