Madness In Solidar (The Image Portfolio book nine) by L.E. Modesitt Jr. (book review).

This adventure, ‘Madness In Solidar’, takes place four centuries after Rex Regis, the last volume in ‘The Imager Portfolio’ wherein the mighty Quaeryt, hero of five books, managed to establish a Collegium of Imagers. These are people who can ’image’ things into existence in a limited way, depending on their individual strength. They can also image concealments to make themselves invisible, though not inaudible and put shields up to protect their person from arrows, knives, sticks and stones and so forth. They can image a stone into your head and kill you or hot iron into a cannon to make it explode. They are weak after such acts but can be restored by lager! I would have been a great Imager in my youth. Like all oddities they are regarded with suspicion by right thinking people and, in the centuries before the founding of the Collegium, were usually either enslaved or killed.


The protagonist is Alastar, an unknown Imager from Westisle, appointed as new leader of the Collegium. Alastar is a widower and the ‘Prologues’ scattered through the book are flashbacks to his youth. He was poor. The Collegium is like a monastery or a boarding school, except that some Imagers marry and the staff and pupils come from all kinds of background from the poor and illegitimate to the sons or daughters of High Holders or wealthy factors and every social stratum in between. The technological level is late mediaeval.

Alastar is trying to preserve the Collegium in the midst of a crisis in Solidar. The Rex is impetuous and arrogant, maybe even a bit mad and almost broke and wants to raise taxes. The High Holders – landed nobility – are jealous of their status and prerogatives and don’t want to pay higher tariffs. The factors, businessmen, don’t want to pay higher tariffs neither but do want the government to spend more money on roads and ships to defend them from piracy. For a United Statesman, Modesitt is surprisingly contemptuous of businessmen, the new gods of our society. Most of his heroes are in government service of one kind or another, military or police, though some come from artisan background. The very contemporary principle upheld in this book is that rich people should pay their fair share of taxes in order to keep the state running properly.

Alastar is new to his post and unfamiliar with the capital city and so much of the first half of the novel consists of him having meetings with the various interest groups, High Holders, Rex and Factors. As he also chats with the Imagers of various ranks, getting to know them, this is a very talky book even by Modesitt’s standards. However, most of the conversations are interesting and advance the plot. In between meetings, Alastar is reading an old journal to learn the ancient history of the Collegium and more about the founder, Quaeryt. This is another familiar device. Quaeryt himself spent a lot of time reading a book about the founder of the religion of the Nameless. Usually the insights gained from the book tie into the main story and help our hero figure out what to do.

When my old English literature teacher was trying to make us spotty adolescents appreciate T.S. Eliot he used to say, ‘The imagery is terrific.’ While the imaging is interesting here, as usual, I can’t say that Modesitt’s imagery is terrific. He’s just not that kind of writer. What he has is the plain speaking old-fashioned clarity of an Asimov, Heinlein or Clarke. You always know exactly what’s going on, right down to how the egg toast is burnt and the bacon greasy. This kind of prose may not be ‘poetic’ but it’s much easier to read and, for most of us, content is more important than style. When you get clarity, content and style you have a great writer. They are rare.

An enjoyable read. I have my usual reservations about the callousness with which some opponents are murdered, partly because it’s not in a fair fight. They haven’t got a chance. However, this quibble is not enough to stop me reading more Modesitt. His recurring theme of how one might organise and run a fairly decent society is a large one that deserves consideration by intelligent people, even, dear readers, those like us who retreat from the real world into fantasy, now and then.

Eamonn Murphy

March 2015

(pub: TOR/Forge. 461 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $32.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-7985-6)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website:

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