My standard spoiler warning for this series: Antiagon Fire is the seventh novel in L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Imager Portfolio series, and the fourth one following the adventures of Quaeryt Rytersyn. The first three novels in the series had a different protagonist and were set in the same fictional world but several centuries after the events portrayed in the Quaeryt novels.
In other words, you may want to stop reading this review if you haven’t at least read the first three Quaeryt novels: Scholar, Princeps and Imager’s Battalion. If you’d like a refresher, you can find my reviews of those novels here, here and here. (You can also find my look at the initial Imager trilogy here.)
So, in summary: if you’re not familiar with this series yet, please check it out because it’s excellent—but stop reading this review here to avoid spoilers.
The curve of Quaeryt’s influence and power continues to rise as the series progresses. No longer a humble and mostly broke scholar, he has by now become a powerhouse with experience in government and military command. His uncommonly strong imaging skills are finally out in the open. The Telaryn ruler Bhayar, who is working towards the unification of Lydar, tends to listen closely to Quaeryt’s advice and wishes. Those wishes happen to include a scholarium-type organization for imagers. Given that we know more or less where the world is heading from the first Imager trilogy, it’s clear that Quaeryt’s power is on the rise.
On the other hand, with great power comes great responsibility—and it’s becoming abundantly clear that Quaeryt is affected by the load on his shoulders. He’s not quite losing it like Rand al’Thor circa Lord of Chaos, but his frequent nightmares do indicate something akin to PTSD is setting in after his lethal role in some of the last novel’s major battles. Keep in mind that, despite the length of this series, it really hasn’t been that long in terms of internal chronology: Quaeryt’s been through a lot in a relatively short time. He’s clearly internalized what he says towards the end of this novel: “The worst of acts are often justified by the best of reasons.”
On top of that, Vaelora is now pregnant and, understandably given that she’s also along for the ride in a military campaign, she’s not always in the best mood. There’s something incredibly amusing about the couple’s bickering in the middle of these world-shaking events, with Quaeryt constantly doing his best not to upset his wife by either over-taxing or over-coddling her. The balance between these two characters, which has always been fascinating and delicate, becomes something truly special in Antiagon Fire.
As mentioned before, the Quaeryt portion of the Imager Portfolio is, in a sense, one huge prequel to the first three novels in the series. Especially Imager’s Battalion felt like “history in the making,” with the author slowly putting together a puzzle that should show, when it’s all finished, a world that’s much closer to the starting position of Imager. Antiagon Fire continues this pattern, with Bhayar setting his sights on the as-yet unconquered portions of the continent and dispatching Quaeryt and Vaelora to handle matters.
The main difference this time is that Bhayar is aiming for diplomacy rather than military conquest. Quaeryt and Vaelora are awarded the status of envoys, so they can try to convince one area’s rulers that it’s in their best interests to join Bhayar. As you’d expect from L.E. Modesitt, Jr., the geo-political and sociological lay-out of the situation is incredibly detailed and plausible, maybe something only an author with Modesitt’s professional background (which he discussed in detail during a recent conversation with publisher Tom Doherty) could develop to such an extent.
While I love this series, I’d consider Antiagon Fire one of the weaker installments thus far, if only because it’s so clearly a transitional book. Despite the complexity of this series as a whole, you can summarize the main developments of Antiagon Fire in just a handful of sentences. In addition, the main thrust of the plot is more or less identical to Imager’s Battalion: province X needs to become part of Bhayar’s lands, and Quaeryt’s again in the thick of it. He strong-arms the powerful, navigates the internal politics of Bhayar’s army, and contemplates ethics. Combine this with a significant amount of travel, and you end up with a novel that sometimes feels like it takes a long time to get where it’s going.
Then again, if you’ve read this far into the series, you’re probably not averse to any of this. The level of detail Modesitt brings to his world-building is, as always, both uncompromising and astonishing. The characters may not evolve as much as they did in previous installments, but they do continue to gain depth. Maybe most importantly, the intricate look at the history of Lydar/Solidar is unique and fascinating as always. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. combines legends, current politics and the future (as portrayed in the first three novels in the series) into one of the most complex depictions of the evolution of a fantasy universe ever.
While Antiagon Fire isn’t the strongest installment in the series, it does set up what could be a spectacular resolution in Rex Regis. Before that, in September 2013 fans of the author can also look forward to The One-Eyed Man, a standalone science fiction novel based on the same painting as his Palencar Project story “New World Blues.”
Antiagon Fire is published by Tor. It is available on May 28th, 2013. You can read an excerpt of the novel here.
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.