Monday, November 7, 2011

"Scholar" by L.E. Modesitt (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official L.E. Modesitt Website
Order "Scholar" HERE
Read FBC Review of Imager
Read FBC Review of Imager's Challenge
Read FBC Review of Imager's Intrigue

INTRODUCTION: After the trilogy consisting of Imager, Imager's Challenge and Imager's Intrigue that introduced us to Rhenn, one of the most enchanting narrators in recent fantasy, LE Modesitt goes back in time before the unification of Solidar to give us a tale that introduces another great character, the scholar of the title and secret imager, Quaeryt Rytersyn.

"Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented. Years of war have consolidated five nations into three--Bovaria, Telaryn, and Antiago. Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn. Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in Solis, the capital city, Quaeryt persuades Bhayar to send him to Tilbor, conquered ten years earlier by Bhayar’s father, in order to see if the number and extent of occupying troops can be reduced so that they can be re-deployed to the border with warlike Bovaria.

Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancies of imagers in Lydar is short. Just before Quaeryt departs, Bhayar’s youngest sister passes a letter to the scholar-imager, a letter that could well embroil Quaeryt in the welter of court politics he had hoped to leave behind. On top of that, on his voyage and journey to Tilbor he must face pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder, as well as discovering the fact that he is not quite who he thought he was. To make it all worse, the order of scholars to which he belongs is jeopardized in more ways than one."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As "Scholar" takes us back centuries from the superb world of the original Imager series, I would say that the novel is quite accessible even if one has not read the first series and LE Modesitt's world building skills are again on display here. However for people familiar with Rhenn's world, you will recognize the same general social and political division of holders, factors and artisans, the Phaarsi already being viewed with suspicion and occasionally persecuted, though at this moment in time there is no Imager Collegium, while princes rule the three countries that make up Solidar and relatively recent battles and conquests that reduced said number to three are fresh in everyone's memories.

Stylistically the main difference between Scholar and the earlier three Imager novels is the third person narration, but as the novel follows Quaeryt from a relatively intimate point of view, the differences are minimal and they boil down to a less immediate feel as opposed to Rhenn's intense narration.

Scholar also has some similarity with Imager's Intrigue as it is mostly a fantasy thriller though it has quite a lot of battles and fights too, so it moves toward clear adventure in the last third. The novel is also a very good example of the classical approach to the sff genre - the modest but super competent hero that has been favored in the genre for a long time though today this is more a science fictional than a fantasy-nal approach since in the latter pretty conservative genre, the destined, noble blood heroes are more common.

As such, Scholar heavily depends on how much you like and empathize with Quearyt, the orphan scholar turned sailing master, turned scholar again when one of his legs got injured, secret imager and all around expert at intrigue and getting out of sticky situations while working for what he perceives to be the greater good.

His adventures in the service of Lord Bhayar and his task of "solving" the tricky situation in a conquered but still restive ten years later northern province, takes him from the sea to the forests, from hovels to palaces, from corrupt officials to fighting bandits and even rebel armies, while having to deal with corruption and even treason in both his scholar order as well as in the officialdom of the country...Link
Scholar is a standalone with a definite close to its main thread though of course more is to come next year. A dash of romance too and a superb ending made Scholar (A++) one of my top 25 novels of 2011.

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