Tenth (Madness in Solidar, 2015, etc.) in the Imager series: think an early modern France where magic, or “imaging,” requires precise visualization of technique and result. We pick up the previous timeline 13 years later.
Once again, storm clouds gather over L’Excelsis. The aristocratic High Holders, suffering financially from poor harvests and sons who run up gambling debts they’re unable to pay and resentful of a rising merchant class, demand that Rex Lorien reduce their taxes and repeal the Codis Legis, an agreement that sharply limits their authority and, they complain, infringes their ancient privileges. Lorien, typically, deals with the problem by ignoring it. Violent incidents involving the sons of aristocrats and merchants—including an abduction and possible murder—go largely unremarked, but when somebody starts to kill student imagers, Alastar, Maitre of Solidar's Collegium of Imagers, must intervene. He finds the increasingly wealthy factors (merchants) in no mood to cooperate with the Holders or make concessions. Unidentified civilians secretly ordered a batch of rifles powerful enough to penetrate imager shields. Certain Holders are building private armies. Too many key army officers are sons of Holders. And one of Alastar’s most powerful imagers may have turned renegade. All this isn’t too different from the previous book, just substitute a weak, indecisive Rex for an angry, intemperate one. Again, conversations are mostly didactic and, even between husband and wife in their most intimate moments, oddly formal. Still, readers who revel in action sequences won’t be disappointed. And, more intriguingly, Modesitt gives us a hero aware of growing older and conscious of his physical limitations.
Breaks little new ground, but a solid, involving entry in a worthwhile, occasionally outstanding series.