L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
His name alone makes the promise of engaging adventure, be it of the high fantasy or science fiction variety. As fans following the Imager Portfolio series will readily attest, Modesitt's expert world building is dense, thorough, deep, and top notch. The world of Terahnar springs boldly to life, complete with it's own unique measurements of time and distance; months and years; and multiple political systems. This sort of structured reworking of common cultural touch point would create a high barrier for entry in the hands of a less experienced author; here Modesitt throws you into the deep end of the pool, but gives you the knowledge to swim rather in the warm waters. As is commonplace with an on going series, new comers may feel as though they need to start with book one, Imager, rather than jump right into Imager's Battalion (book 6). There isn't a right or wrong choice here, as this latest work offers comfortable wading into the world. Curious readers could even start in the center of the series with Scholar, which begins the three book cycle centered around Imager's Battalion protagonist, Quaeryt.
What exactly is an "Imager" though? Think of them as a very specific brand of magic user. A rare, inborn affinity allows a comparative few of the world's population the ability to imagine nearly any object they can think of into existence. They can imagine things out of existence too, like the lock on a chest they're looking to pilfer. Among the citizens of Terahnar they are considered outcasts. How badly they are mistreated or abused depends entirely upon which country on the continent they happen to live in. Given the awful lethality with which the imagers use their ability in combat, it's understandable, though not right, of the common folk to be scared. In that sense, it's very much like X-Men in a high fantasy.
The story resumes directly where the events of Princeps conclude. Quaeryt has used his imaging ability to wholly crush an invading army; freezing thousands of enemy soldiers to death in one fell swoop (along with any friendly combatants who happened to be too close). This army was at the command of Rex Kharst, emperor-esk leader of the war like country of Bovaria. Kharst is a vicious and merciless opportunist, who sought to topple his more peaceful neighbors, the Telaryns, while they attempted to deal with a major natural disaster (volcanic eruption). Having repulsed this invasion single handedly in Princeps, Quaeryt is made Subcommander of his own battalion for the counter invasion. This book is heavily a combined of military campaign adventure mixed with rampant political posturing and intrigue. Quaeryt is striving to not only succeed for Lord Bhayar (ruler of Telaryn and Quaeryt's brother-in-law), survive as part of a massive army's vanguard forces, keep his imager talent as secret as possible, and also working all of the angles in an attempt to create a new life for imagers across Lydar. It's a tall order, and very reminiscent of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series in a number of the best ways, which is a very solid compliment.
A very Lord of the Rings flavored map adorns the insert, along with a list of the major characters and their relationships. Both are welcome and helpful additions, which limit confusion in the military campaign setting. The high fantasy is given some unique colonial flair with the addition of muskets and cannons in the evil Bovarian arsenal. Contrasted with the saber wielding mounted calvary of the Telaryn troops, this makes for unique battles even before the magic of the imagers is factored in. The history of the content of Lydar is rich, and we're allowed to explore it through excerpts from among it's books, close examination of it's ruins, and through the careful sharing of its oral folklore. For those with a keen interest in unique foreign cultures, the narrative even showcases a religious service, which offers a windows into daily life among the denizens of this world.
There is a lot to love in this compulsive page turner. With the vibrantly world building of Tolkien, political and familial machinations of Game of Thrones, the mixed unit magical combat of the Codex Alera series, the proven track record of L.E. Modesitt, and the rollicking adventure which fans demand of high fantasy, it's a wonder you're still reading this instead of chapter one of Imager's Battalion. It's available as of January 22nd from Tor Publishing, in a handsome (and meaty) hardback edition for $27.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.