Assassin’s Price (The Eleventh Book of The Imager Portfolio) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr (book review).

Another damned thick book. Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Huh, Mister Modesitt?

Like Edward Gibbon, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. writes long books, also of a historical nature except his are fantasy. ‘Assassin’s Price’ is the 11th book in ‘The Imager Portfolio’ and I’ve read every one of them. Imagers are men and women with a kind of psionic power. Using the power, they can make artefacts of paper, metal or stone as long as the raw material is to hand. They don’t create from nothing. They can also form invisible protective shields and even concealing shields, a personal cloaking device. The rationale for all these talents is explained in earlier books.

This one is a little different because the hero is not an Imager. Charyn is heir to the Rex of Solidar in a time of trouble. Modesitt’s history runs parallel in certain respects to that of our own world where technological and sociological change have caused unrest. In Solidar, the Factors or merchants, growing in power and wealth, are beginning to challenge the High Holders, aristocrats who are jealous of their privileged positions and intend to keep them. Caught in the middle are the Rex and the Imagers, long since formed into an organised force with their own college.

The book starts slowly. All Modesitt books start slowly because his technique is to draw you in bit by bit, day by day, into the hero’s world. He also keeps strictly to one third person point of view character which in this case is Charyn D’Lorien, eldest son of Lorien D’Rex, who is the ruler of Solidar. French sounding names for days and characters give the world a slightly exotic flavour. The technology is roughly that of 18th century Britain and one chap is developing a steam engine. The next book might be a sort of Steampunk fantasy.

In the early chapters of this one, we follow Charyn as he practices with weapons, goes to the markets to find out how business works and visits an army commander to check on Solidar’s military preparedness. Jarolian privateers are looting the merchant ships of Solidar and the Factors are riled at the Rex for not defending them enough. It is hinted that Charyn used to be a bit of a scallywag but is now taking on responsibility.

As revealed in previous volumes, his father, the Rex, can be a hot-tempered fool but manages with the help of Maître Alastar of the Imager Collegium. Charyn’s mother, Chelia, is a careful woman and has even arranged for a lovely lady called Palenya to teach him to play an instrument in the music room and other games in the bedroom. This to prevent a hot-blooded young man falling in with the wrong sort of female. Palenya, a barren widow and so risk-free, is a sympathetic character and Charyn is fond of her.

Modesitt’s heroes achieve by getting up early, working hard, practising their skills until they have mastered them and keeping a watchful eye on the dangerous world. This seems to be Modesitt’s own approach to life and enables him to put out two long books a year for eager fans.

The novel follows the classic pattern of increasing troubles for the hero, woe piled on woe. There are several assassination attempts and a number of traitors in the Chateau to be rooted out. The Factors and the High Holders both think the government should solve all their problems but don’t want to pay any more taxes. (Sound familiar?) Despite being fantasy, Modesitt’s books are soundly grounded when it comes to economics and politics. Several neat plot twists keep the reader interested and the hero is an engaging character, impatient with crooks and appreciative of the work of loyal underlings.

I liked it, as usual. Nevertheless, I will probably eschew further books by Modesitt. I have a feeling of saturation, that I’ve ‘done’ him, so to speak and there is lots of other stuff to read. I’ve enjoyed the ride and will continue to look at his website and blog every now and then. He’s had a rich full life. He knows about American politics and society and his blogs are informative and interesting even if you don’t read his books. If you haven’t yet tried L.E. Modesitt, Jr. both blogs and books are worth a look. He’s no fool.

Eamonn Murphy

October 2017

(pub: TOR. 526 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $38.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-9047-9)

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