‘Treachery’s Tools’ continues L.E. Modesitt Jr’s ‘Imager Portfolio’ series set on the continent of Solidar, on the world of Terahnar, though the planet’s name is seldom mentioned and if there are any other continents on it they haven’t come up yet. In previous books, the land has been united under a Rex Regis, thanks largely to the work of Imagers. These talented fellows can create things from the materials around them and even make them appear over a distance. For example, one can image an iron dart into your head as long as there is iron nearby for use. More usefully, they can image raw materials into manufactured products like jewellery or paper. The power is rare and there are very few Imagers as a percentage of the population. Formerly outcasts who were hunted down and killed, the Imagers are now organised into a Collegium and form a key power group in the state, supporting the Rex and generally trying to keep society stable. Things change, however, and now the factors and merchants are growing wealthier and beginning to challenge the authority of the High Holders, a land-owning aristocracy used to having their own way in days of yore. Bad harvests and tough times bring these conflicts to a head.
The cast list takes up the first three pages of the book and the map the next two. That’s how it is with epic fantasy nowadays. Both, to be fair, are useful as the book is long and the plot gets complicated. Our hero is Alastar, leader of the Collegium of Imagers, who is desperately trying to make the conflicting groups see reason. Merchants don’t want to pay taxes. High Holders don’t want to pay taxes or the loans some of them owe the merchant bankers. The Rex is weak and incompetent. The first part of the book has Alastar diligently holding meetings with various important persons to hold things together. When they fall apart, the Imagers have to join the fight.
I usually shun multi-volume fantasy epics on the grounds that they are basically a publisher’s way of selling lots of books and take up too much life, each tome normally stretching to 500 or so pages. Somehow I have been seduced into reading Modesitt, partly because a reviewer for SFCrowsnest who does one book is expected to do it’s successors. There is no compulsion, however, and I could refuse but I rather like these works. The industrious Modesitt turns them out at a rapid clip to keep his bank balance healthy and when the ‘Imager’ and ‘Recluce’ series gang up on one, it amounts to rather a lot of books. Never mind. My habitual reading is short stories, a series of brief slaps or kisses, in which one is plunged into a brand new world every 5000 words or so. Reading a big, familiar fantasy epic is more cosy, like putting on a favourite pair of old slippers. This is particularly so with Modesitt, whose style is distinctly sedate and not to everyone‘s taste. There is action, especially when war breaks out, but no sex or gore. His heroes are steady fellows who love one good, true woman and walk the path of righteousness, apart from killing all their enemies. Alastar is typical of the breed.
This story follows the pattern of all the other Modesitt fantasies with a slow build-up leading to a large battle and a satisfying denouement. That might be a flaw but more probably it is what fantasy readers want. More of the same. Anyone who got pleasure from the previous books in ‘The Imager Portfolio’ will enjoy this one, too. Not to enjoy like a night of wild, crazy love with some irresponsible slut but rather like a nice three course meal in a good restaurant with a surprisingly tasty red to wash it down. Then off to bed in good time because you must be up early to get on with the chores, like a decent Modesitt hero.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 512 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-76538-540-6)