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Isolate: A Novel In The Grand Illusion 1 by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (book review).

November 17, 2021 | By | Reply More

Steffan Dekkard is a security aide to Councillor Obreduur of the Craft Party in the state of Guldoran. He lives in the Councillor’s house along with Obreduur’s wife and children and other staff members, including Avraal Ysella, a female empath. Ysella is also a security guard but both she and Dekkard double up as economic advisors, administrators and general helpers once Obreduur has been safely escorted to his office.

Empath’s can sense the feelings of those around them, mostly, so Ysella can assess if someone is about to attack. Dekkard is an isolate, one who cannot be ‘read’ by an empath. He is trained in combat and armed with a hefty truncheon, a short sword and two throwing knives. Councillor Obreduur is often attacked in the novel. Generally, Ysella can get out a warning just in time and Dekkard can deal with the assailant.

As well as empaths and isolates, there are ordinary folks and an unfortunate type called susceptibles who can be controlled by an empath. In some countries, these are used as slave labour but not in Guldor.

Not that things are perfect in the land. This is a gaslight fantasy which means technology has reached steam power and society is going through an industrial revolution with all the trouble that entails. Workers are made unemployed by new machines and corporacions, as Modesitt calls them, are ruthless about increasing their profits, heedless of any social harm.

The Craft Party represents guilds and workers more generally but the Commerce Party controls the government, supported by the Landor Party which looks after the interests of the old landed aristocracy. The Commerce Party serves the corporacions and corruption is rife. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, surprise, surprise. But there’s enough dissatisfaction afoot that the revolutionary New Meritorist movement is gaining support, assassinating Councilors and blowing up public buildings. Revolution is in the air!

The Craft Party wants to stop revolution by ending corruption and redressing the economic balance a bit so that workers do better. The Commerce Party and their wealthy backers just want more and more wealth and power for themselves and intend to deal with troublemakers by ruthless suppression. Our hero Dekkard is an up-and-coming young man caught in the middle of all this and loyal to Councilor Obreduur.

It’s a political story that allegorically addresses one of the main issues of our time, gross inequality of wealth and opportunity, especially in the United States of America. Britain has the same issues to a degree and so does Europe, but having allowed some evil creeping socialism (U.S. readers recoil in horror) into our systems we do not have such disgruntled lower orders.

Nearly all Modesitt’s novels are political to some extent, that’s his background, but this one is more obviously so and none the worse for it. He actually worked for the Republican Party but in a bygone era when it was…what’s the word?…sane. Currently, he seems to find the excessive greed of the wealthy somewhat odious.

As ever with Mr. Modesitt, the book is full of interesting ideas about how society should ideally work along with the sad truths about how people really behave. His hero, Dekkard, kills when necessary, without any sign of remorse. He also falls in love with the female lead, Ysella, and their courtship proceeds at a glacial pace. Modesitt’s ideas of romance are downright Victorian but rather sweet and suitable for children.

The author’s technique of following the hero’s daily life in detail lends verisimilitude to the fantasy world but some readers might find it a bit of a plod. Although there are some exciting moments, this is not an adventure novel. It’s not fun. It’s a meaty, substantial, worthy novel about party politics. Think Anthony Trollope rather than Robert E. Howard.

I generally like Modesitt’s books and I liked this one. The fantasy world isn’t very magical and, apart from the empaths and the politics, not all that different from our own Victorian age. The world-building is solid and well thought out. The characters are noble and engaged in important tasks. Can they prevail? You’ll have to buy it and see. Part two of the series is out next year and I look forward to it.

Eamonn Murphy

November 2021

(pub:‎ Macmillan, 2021. 608 page hardback. Price: $29.99 (US), £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-25077-740-9)

released: US: 16 November 2021. UK: 21 December 2021

check out website: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250777409

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Category: Books, Scifi

About the Author ()

Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel reviewer who writes a bit too. See https://www.amazon.co.uk/~/e/B01GEVVV5Q

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