Antiagon Fire – L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Antiagon Fire


Quaeryt, soldier, scholar, and mage, has suffered the effects of overuse of magic. Yet his quest to help king Bhayar conquer the rest of Lydar leads him to rely on magic more and more.


I saw recently that, in an older interview, L. E. Modesitt says he never writes the same series twice. In the last couple of Recluce books I read, a powerful magician details every day of his attempt to use magic to conquer enemies and gain ground, while his quiet but powerful wife tolerates him. The mage explains to everyone he meets that he’s a healer and a mage. Each occupation wears traditional colours.

In the Imager series, on the other hand, a powerful magician details every day of his attempt to use magic to conquer enemies and gain ground, while his quiet but powerful wife tolerates him. The mage explains to everyone he meets that he’s a policeman/scholar and a mage/soldier. Each occupation wears traditional colours. Very different.

The Imager books cover a period of several hundred years. Across all that time, colour-coded occupations have apparently not changed a bit. As protagonist Quaeryt travels across an entire island/continent through four books (so far), everyone (and I mean everyone) expresses surprise at his brown-green clothing, and he takes time to explain that he’s both a scholar and a soldier. Never once does Modesitt assume that we, the readers, have heard this before and can predict the conversation. No; for the sake of verisimilitude, he tells it again.

This is a common tactic in the book. There are no end of meetings in which he tells his officers something, then tells his wife that he told the officers something (in the process of which he tells it again), then tells another officer the same thing, then meets with the original officers (who remind him what he told them), then asks about the thing he told them. I genuinely believe the book would be half its length (or less) without the repetition.

This repetition is also why I need to take a break from the series. While this book improves in its latter half, I was intensely frustrated with the first half, where a good part of the ‘let me explain my clothing’, happens. By this point, Quaeryt has explained his clothing to half the population of the entire island, one by one – and we’ve been witnesses to each encounter. It’s infuriating and exhausting.

Imaging (magic) has also become more and more of a black box, able to do virtually anything, at the cost of a serious headache and maybe some skin bleaching. The chief item of interest about the series has been Quaeryt discovering how magic works, and the mysterious Pharsi legends that seem to refer to Quaeryt. Yet when he does finally meet with reclusive, powerful Pharsi who clearly know more about magic than he, he … says, ‘Nice to meet you’, and goes on his way. No followup, no questions, no curiosity. Nothing.

I’m also intensely tired of Quaeryt’s relationship with his wife, Vaelora (who is king Bhayar’s sister, and the king told them to get married, and Quaeryt is grateful for it, as we hear over and over and over again). No matter what he says, they end up in a misunderstanding – 75% of which is Vaelora thinking he’s hinting about sex. We’re told they love each other dearly, but to my mind there’s very little sign of it in how they interact.

The series could also be subtitled, A Directory of Lydarian Lagers. Every time Quaeryt drinks a lager – and we’re there every time he does in preference to ale – we hear about how good or mediocre it is. We’ve crossed the continent getting lager reviews at every inn and household. Also hearing about how heavy and hard to move cannon are, though it’s less clear why we need to hear that quite so much, since they’re almost never in evidence.

As you’ll have picked up by now, I think that the series suffers severely from, ‘successful author syndrome’, in which no one dares to edit the work of an author who’s sold a lot of books. But I dearly wish that some editor would finally pluck up the courage to at least take away Modesitt’s ability to type an ellipsis…

All that said (and I could say more – or just repeat it a few times), the second half of the book somewhat rescues it. There’s more happening, and less tedium. Yes, it’s a variation of what we’ve seen before. No there’s no real reason for the invasion that is the end goal. But at least there’s something going on. And, because Quaeryt kills a lot of people without meeting them, he doesn’t get to explain his uniform to them. Small blessings.

I’m a cheap, disciplined reader. I bought these books, so I’m going to read them (after a break to recover my fortitude). But if you’re not as masochistic, I urge you to stop now. Maybe get books one and four of the series. My advice is to skip this one and most of the others.

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