The first two volumes of this sub-series, detailing Quaeryt’s shift from scholar and advisor to political figure, were a welcome reprieve from the tedious minutiae of the initial trilogy (set in this book’s future). Here, unfortunately, we begin to shift back into tedium.While the topic is more interesting – Quaeryt’s training of imagers (magicians) and his maneuvering for a future lyceum for their training – Modesitt’s approach of day-by-day description makes it a struggle to remain interested. Similarly, his penchant for quoting and considering long, vague passages of religious philosophy (about the Nameless god) adds nothing to the story. Those sections add to Modesitt’s seeming reluctance to commit to almost anything, exemplified by Quaeryt constantly encountering things (often food or ale) that is ‘not as good as x, but not as bad as y’ or ‘better than it could have been, considering’. The only really firm ground is that Quaeryt is committed to his vision (we never really know why) of a future for imagers and willing to do almost anything to achieve it. He’s also committed to his wife, though we very rarely see them interact in any truly intimate way.
Modesitt compounds the problem by treating imaging (magic) as a black box. You can image a large stone bridge, a feeling of confidence, the absence of a bridge (deleting it from reality), a pile of dirt from here to there, iron darts to locations that can’t be seen, an invisible shield against projectiles, an invisibility cloak, etc. Imaging is a panacea, with the one caveat that using it too much can cause headaches or even death. I usually enjoy magic systems, but the only interesting thing here is that Quaeryt personally takes some big steps – about which he will doubtless do some vague worrying in the next book. Even the one practical limit – that imaging requires energy input (often in the form of heat from the environment) is only vaguely described, and its parameters seem … flexible.
All that sounds (somewhat) worse than it is. The book is moderately paced, and Quaeryt is less annoying than some of Modesitt’s recent protagonsits. But certainly this part of the series is losing the magic that it partially regained in the previous Quaeryt books. I’m apprehensive about those that follow. This book is, to damn it with faint praise, palatable, but not much more.
I’m also apprehensive about a planned reading/re-reading of all the Recluce books I have – dozens of them – uncertain whether Modesitt (like many successful authors before him) has lost the plot (literally) or maybe the Recluce books aren’t as good as I once thought.