A low-key yet climactic visit to the world of imagers (as wizards are called here), again focusing on the tribulations of the new Rex (ruler) of Solidar, young Charyn.
An undeclared naval war drags on. Vehement protests against corrupt choristers (preachers) break out. High Holders (landowning gentry) stubbornly resist change. As an emerging middle class of factors and traders pursue profits, impoverished workers resort to arson attacks on factories and warehouses. On a personal level, Charyn must choose a wife and produce an heir, the current heir, his younger brother, Bhayrn, being an opinionated numskull unwilling to learn the business of ruling. Only the armed forces and imagers (his sister, Aloryana, is one) stand solidly behind him. Assassination attempts continue, but who is responsible, and why? Nobody wants to pay more taxes even though the Rex needs revenue for ships and civil engineering works. What Modesitt (Assassin’s Price, 2017, etc.) makes of all this is part character study, part power struggle, part social engineering, and part intrigue, as Charyn exercises enormous patience coupled with a reluctance to impose decisions—he willingly listens to all points of view, urges opposing groups to work together, and probes for root causes while seeming to accomplish little. Although few readers would claim to possess comparable virtues—this is a fantasy, after all—there’s never a doubt where our sympathies lie. In less capable hands the unfolding drama might have turned out merely dull and didactic, but Modesitt cranks up considerable narrative tension even as the tone remains cool and calm. Some, however, may find the lack of visceral action or wizardry disappointing.
Absorbing and involving—a fully satisfying conclusion to this particular story arc.