How satisfying it is to settle down with another long, solid novel by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. ‘Rex Regis’ continues the story of Quaeryt, the powerful imager involved in a great campaign to unify the continent of Lydar. Quaeryt also wants to set up a college of imagers where people with the talent can be safely harnessed to practice their arts and serve the state. He works for Lord Bhayar and is married to his master’s sister, Vaelora. He’s a kind of Merlin to Bhayar’s Arthur. Note that Bhayar is the Rex Regis of the title, not our hero. As the story begins, Quaeryt has just conquered the land of Antiago and must embark on making the country of Khel commit to Lord Bhayar’s rule. However, Quaeryt has risen high and fast in the ranks of the kingdom and there are other powerful men who would like to bring him down. He has to watch his back.
In the usual steady way of Modesitt books, troubles mount for Quaeryt. The former ruler’s imagers have vanished and at least three of them are reputedly very dangerous. Untrustworthy Sub-Marshal Myskyl, who took several regiments to pacify the north, has sent no dispatches for months. Quaeryt suspects he may be secretly planning an uprising against the Rex Regis. Meanwhile, our hero is given the rank of administrator and tasked with all the minor problems of governing the conquered territory: repairing roads, collecting tariffs, taking a census of the important landowners and so forth. Modesitt is very concerned with the practicalities of government and little concerned with heroic fantasy conventions. Let’s face it, King Elric of Melniboné seldom worried himself with such minutiae and Conan the Administrator is not a title we are ever likely to see. Modesitt’s approach is original and he makes the details interesting if you have a political bent, which I do.
Our hero is a bit down on businessmen or factors as they are called herein. He finds them more interested in making money than in doing the right thing. He also dislikes how they benefit from works performed by Lord Bhayar’s men, such as roads and bridges, but resent paying taxes to contribute to the cost. They also resent paying the cost of food and board for the army that conquered them, which I find acceptable but Quaeryt thinks mean. His view is that Lord Bhayar is much less of a tyrant than the tyrant who ruled before and they should thank their lucky stars. He also dislikes many High Holders, the landed gentry, who are only interested in preserving their traditional rights and privileges. That said, he can work with reasonable men and women from both camps.
Modesitt’s fantasy is so realistic that even the powers of his hero have a kind of scientific rationale. Imagers draw atoms from the surroundings to create the objects they image, so copper coins are easy to make as copper is abundant but an imager who tried to make gold coins when there was no gold about might kill himself in the attempt. This power of mind-over-matter is fantastic but vaguely plausible. However, Quaeryt can also ‘image project’ a sense of confidence and self-assurance that makes servants quail. He can emanate emanations of authority, like Major de Coverley in ‘Catch 22’, the officer so awesome that no one ever dared ask his first name. He can even broadcast a compulsion to tell the truth so that underlings won’t lie to him. All this is useful but doesn’t have the same scientific rationale as imaging objects.
This is the final volume in ‘The Image Portfolio’ series, I assume, which possibly explains why the dramatic climax comes a bit early. There’s a lot of wrapping up to do. It was interesting, however, and I finished the book wanting more. Between the first three books of the series and the last five there is a large gap of history. Moreover (this isn’t really a spoiler), Quaeryt’s wife is pregnant at the end and it is prophesied that her offspring will be that rare individual, a female imager. Room for a sequel there, surely?
I’ve a notion that like all Modesitt’s works, ‘Rex Regis’ won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but fans of ‘The Imager Portfolio’ will surely enjoy it. I recommend the whole series but you can safely start with Book IV, ‘Scholar’, as that is where Quaeryt’s adventures begin. The first three books are about a different chap at a later date. They’re good, too.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 445 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-76533-634-7)