Imager’s Battalion is the sixth novel in L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Imager Portfolio series, and the third one focusing on the life and times of Quaeryt, after Scholar and Princeps. The initial three novels (Imager, Imager’s Challenge and Imager’s Intrigue) had a different protagonist and were also set hundreds of years after Quaeryt’s time, which is, for this author, a typical shift in chronology.
All this to say that this is a review about the sixth book in an ongoing series. If you haven’t read at least the first two Quaeryt novels (and ideally all five preceding novels), you may want to stop reading this review at the end of this paragraph and instead check out my review of Scholar, because it’s hard not to include plot spoilers for earlier books when you’re reviewing a novel like this one. In summary: for readers who are new to the series: it’s excellent, you should absolutely read it, but stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.
The title of my review of Princeps, the previous book in the series, was “Quaeryt Comes into His Own” because, reading that novel, it’s hard not to notice the significance of Quaeryt’s personal growth throughout the story, especially if you take into account that only about one year had gone by from the beginning of Scholar until the end of Princeps.
When we originally met Quaeryt at the beginning of Scholar, he was (at least superficially) just that: a scholar. No family. No money. Not much in the way of power or influence. Yes, he used to be study buddies with Lord Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn, but he was also still at a stage in his life when he secretly had to image the occasional copper coin to make ends meet. Revealing his imaging skills was definitely not an option.
From that point on, the curve of Quaeryt’s power and influence has been rising continually, even though some aspects of that power and influence are still hidden from most people, even at the start of Imager’s Battalion. He married Bhayar’s sister Vaelora. He has proven himself to be both resourceful and efficient when dealing with the rich and powerful, including people who would threaten Bhayar’s rule. He spent time as the governor of a province. Maybe most significantly, Quaeryt’s imaging skills improved so much that he became a true force to be reckoned with, both on and off the battlefield.
As Princeps came to an end, Quaeryt was an officer in the army raised by Bhayar to counter the growing ambitions of Rex Kharst of Bovaria. Given that information and the title of the new novel, it probably won’t come as a major surprise that Imager’s Battalion has a distinctly military flavor. In essence, the novel describes part of Bhayar’s campaign to conquer Bovaria, specifically the advance on that country’s capital.
As you’d expect from L.E. Modesitt Jr., the military aspect of this novel is as detailed, thoughtful and calmly paced as anything else he has written. Modesitt really gets into the nitty-gritty of battle tactics and strategy, the placement of regiments and battalions, the setup of defensive positions and the specific ways to counter them. He also describes in detail the various interactions between officers, the internal politics and logistics of a large army, and Quaeryt’s learning curve as he begins to understand and use all of this information both to help the war effort and to further his own long term goals. As usual, also, extensive considerations about the ethical implications of using one’s powers are included, and the series’ fantasy universe continues to gain depth and detail.
Yet, despite these familiar aspects of L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s prose, Imager’s Battalion also contains some of his most exciting, action-packed material. The novel contains many descriptions of skirmishes and large scale battles, written from the perspective of someone who’s in the thick of the action. These may not be as pulse-pounding as some of the scenes in, say, The Red Knight by Miles Cameron (which includes some of the most purely exciting fantasy battles I’ve ever read), but when compared to Modesitt’s usual style, Imager’s Battalion is thrilling. Combine that with the undiminished, even growing, depth and complexity of this series, and you end up with one of the best installments in an already great series.
It’s gradually becoming more and more clear that Quaeryt plays a big factor in how the future of Solidar turns out—a future we’ve of course already read about in the first three books in this series. Imager’s Battalion slowly continues to build a bridge towards the starting position of the three Rhenthyll novels, and I expect that Antiagon Fire (due out in May 2013) and Rex Regis, the next two novels in the Imager Portfolio, will continue that process. Even though the focus of the previous two novels was ostensibly on Quaeryt’s evolution (and to a certain extent, that’s of course still the case in Imager’s Battalion), we’re now much more clearly in the part of the series that shows “history in the making.”
I recently learned from the author that, even though Rex Regis is the final Quaeryt novel he plans to write, he’s looking into the possibility of further novels in the Imager Portfolio series, but that he won’t decide on this until after he finishes his current—Recluce-related—projects.
Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. As I mentioned in my earlier reviews, the Imager Portfolio has become one of my favorite series in L.E. Modesitt’s already impressive bibliography, and Imager’s Battalion is one of its strongest installments so far.
Further reading: there’s an excerpt of Imager’s Battalion available here. (Note: same spoiler warnings as mentioned in the first paragraphs of this review apply!) In case you missed it, L.E. Modesitt Jr. and publisher Tom Doherty recently had an extensive conversation about the author’s entire career, including the Imager Portfolio. And finally, I conducted a long interview with the author last year, which also touches on the series.
Imager’s Battalion is published by Tor Books. It comes out January 22.
Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. You can find him on Twitter, and his website is Far Beyond Reality.