"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett...
The hard-won battles fought in Imager’s Battalion have earned Quaeryt a promotion to commander, as well as an assignment to convince the Pharsi High Council in the nation of Khel to submit to Lord Bhayar’s rule, which is key to Bhayar’s ambition to unite all of Solidar. Joined by his pregnant wife Vaelora, who is also Bhayar’s sister, Quaeryt leads an army and a handful of imagers deeper into the hostile lands once held by the tyrannical Rex Kharst, facing stiff-necked High Holders, attacks by land and sea—including airborne fire launched by hostile imagers from the land of Antiago—and a mysterious order of powerful women who seem to recognize the great destiny that awaits Quareyt and Vaelora, as well as the cost of achieving it.
In most epic fantasies, the theme is good vs. evil. Often, specifically, some youngster discovers that he or she is a hero of legendary destiny and gathers a group of like-minded souls together to go out and face the dastardly grand pooh-bah of powerful wickedness.
Quaeryt Ryterson, the current hero of L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Imager Portfolio, doesn’t really fit the mold, and neither does the Imager Portfolio series. I’ve enjoyed the story more for those differences.
Quaeryt started his part of the story, in Scholar, as a grown man who already knew what his powers were and who had developed his own agenda. He planned to use his intelligence, and his “connection” with Lord Bhayar, ruler of Telaryn, to forge a safer and more secure place in society for people like himself, meaning people who were either scholars, imagers or both.
Neither scholars nor imagers, meaning magic-users, are highly respected in Quaeryt’s world. Imagers in particular faced fear, extreme prejudice, and even death for their talents. Scholars usually just lived in poverty and were disrespected.
There is no “great evil” in the Imager Portfolio. Only the evil that men do. But just as power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Quaeryt faces a number of men who do quite a bit of evil in their desire to prevent Quaeryt from accomplishing his goals.
Especially since Quaeryt’s intelligence and education tend to result in exposure for the corrupt, and his loyal backing of his friend and patron Lord Bhayar result in the toppling of quite a few less enlightened rulers.
This is because Quaeryt has determined that the best way for him to get what he wants is for him to ably assist Bhayar in getting what HE wants, the unification of the Lidar continent under Bhayar’s rule. That assistance has resulted in Quaeryt becoming a military commander on campaign. A very able military commander who commands not just the loyalty of his troops, but also some special powers, because Quaeryt has become a powerful imager.
In Antiagon Fire, for the first time Quaeryt faces an enemy who knows how to fight against imagers. He also faces imagers in battle who have power equal to his own. And just as he sees everything he has worked for within his grasp, he faces the loss of all the he holds dear.
Escape Rating A: Imager’s Battalion was about the military campaign, while Antiagon Fire is more about the diplomatic side of the conquest of Lidar. Both are about the Quaeryt’s long-term strategy to make a better future for imagers and scholars, and everyone else. Quaeryt is an idealist with a pragmatic streak.
He’s also utterly fascinating. He tries to never take the credit for anything he does, because he knows that his enemies will pounce (metaphorically speaking) and doom his quest.
In the middle of the story, the seeresses of Kell tell him that if he succeeds, no one will remember his name. He doesn’t care. It’s the doing of it that matters to him. In that moment, Quaeryt, together with his wife, Vaelora, reminded me a lot of Delenn and Captain Sheridan in Babylon 5, in the episode “Comes the Inquisitor“. They were the right people at the right time because they were willing to give their lives for each other, all alone in the dark, certain that someone else would take up the fight, whether anyone would remember their names or not. It was not about the glory. It’s not about the glory for Quaeryt, it’s about the goal. And about his love for Vaelora, although he never thought he’d get that lucky.
Nothing great is accomplished without cost. The ending left me open-mouthed in shock. And upset that the final book in the series, Rex Regis, probably won’t be out until the end of the year at the earliest.