Imager’s Intrigue – L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Imager's Intrigue


Rhenn, a portraitist become imager mage, has been working as a law enforcement officer, but the pressures of coming war force him to take a more active role.


Confirmation that this series will be a very long slog. Pretty much everything I said about the previous book, Imager’s Challenge, remains true. This is a long and tedious slog through Rhenn’s day to day activities: endless reports about what he’s wearing and what he has for breakfast, many conversations that go nowhere and yet somehow are meant to add up to a convincing body of evidence, and many moments in which Rhenn is ‘forced’ to do terrible things, but it’s all okay, because he means well.

If the series is meant to build to an ending in which a good man has somehow become evil, I think it may have peaked early. Rhenn does a bad thing, blames someone else, and, well, ends and means.

There’s one brief sequence in which there’s action, and the book becomes interesting, but it doesn’t last. I don’t generally look for action-based books, but I found myself longing for more of it here, if only to cut off the endless tide of quotidian detail. This book includes all the pointless small talk other authors leave out. Literally – we’re treated to invitations to galas, discussion of what to wear, announcement at the galas, who talks to whom at the galas, what they said, post-gala analysis of who said what to who and what they meant. And then another gala, and another. There’s seldom anything of consequence said, but Rhen has a lot of ‘feelings’ about what should happen. And of course, he’s always right.

The book tries to be even-handed; some of the supporting cast are boys, some are girls. But when they’re girls, it’s always pointed out: “One of the taudis-kids–she was a girl–told me,” a character reports. It’s not relevant that she’s a girl; it’s just Modesitt making sure we know that not all the characters are male. If he hadn’t pointed to it, I would never have assumed they were. At least until I ran into the ‘shop-girls’, or the idea that ‘putting a female on any Navy ship would have created too many problems’. It’s too bad, but… sexism, what can you do?

There’s just an incredible amount of trivia, with Rhen always sure there’s ‘something about it’ that he can’t quite spot. Neither can we, because we never get the key information. I suppose that maybe it’s an accurate representation of a true law enforcement endeavour, but it’s deadly dull to read. And what little real information we get is delivered with a verbal tic: at the end of the conversation, having said there’s nothing of import, a character invariably says, “Well, Maitre Rholyn did say something.” And when asked about an action, no one ever says yes; they say, “We can do that.” And if there’s a third party, after the conversation, they will invariably turn to Rhenn and say, “You weren’t all that easy on him, Rhenn.” Who then shrugs and goes home to lunch. There’s endless worrying about problems (e.g., a new, strong, dangerous drug) and very little action.

I was most disturbed that, while, the book seems to be showing Rhenn’s path toward moral compromise, it actually doesn’t. Rhenn is moral and ethical, until, suddenly, he’s not. No trail, no foundation; just an abrupt change that he barely acknowledges. Others around him see it, but do nothing about it. And while Rhenn regularly admits flaws, they’re all of the “I wasn’t quite as perfect as usual today” variety.

Maybe it’s because I was reading this at the same time as old Heinlein stories, but I saw a surprising similarity – both deal with capable heroes who are sure that their way is the only right way, and that authoritarianism is fine, so long as they’re the ones in charge.

Overall, a very hard book to finish. I’ll likely read the rest, because I’m cheap and persistent. I bought the books, and by god I’ll get my money’s worth. But it won’t be easy.

NB: It looks like the next book is actually a prequel. So maybe there’s still hope for the series.

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