The ninth book in the Imager series moves on some 380 years from the previous entry (Antiagon Fire, 2013).
For a century, the influence of Solidar's Collegium of Imagers has waned, due to weak leadership, lack of ambition and a willingness to contribute nothing except political loyalty in return for the Rex’s monetary support. To his own surprise, Alastar, a talented senior imager (wizard) who’s all but unknown in the capital, L’Excelsis, and has little knowledge of conditions there, learns he has been selected as the new Maitre. On his arrival, Alastar finds that imager training has languished, and senior imagers with divided loyalties have allowed factionalism and a culture of bullying to take hold among the student body. Rex Ryen, the stubborn and intemperate ruler, insists on imposing a huge tax increase on the High Holders (landowners) and factors (merchants), a demand the High Holders contemptuously disregard. Ryen angrily orders Alastar to assassinate the High Holders one by one until they comply—a command Alastar cannot obey but cannot dismiss. Neither the Rex nor the Holders consider the imagers a threat. As Alastar tries to unravel the bewildering yet overwhelmingly important tangle of politics and familial relationships that swirl around the Holders and the Rex, he learns that the army—swollen to unrealistic proportions, rebellious and itching for a fight—might intervene. And renegade imager Desyrk, with ties to both the military and the Rex’s family, threatens both the Collegium and the Rex. With meticulously wrought characters and complex, logically developed plotting that towers above the fantasy norm, it’s easy to forgive the author, here, his unusually pedestrian prose, stiff dialogue and flat-footed tendency to dwell on the nondeist religion practiced by everyone.
Despite the imperfections, Modesitt once again delivers an engrossing power struggle negotiated by a virtuous and talented man committed to achieving the greater good by way of the least harm.