#CBR4 Maneuver #38 – Scholar
Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction
Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Hundreds of years before the time of Imager, the continent of Lydar is fragmented. Quaeryt is a scholar and a friend of Bhayar, the young ruler of Telaryn. Worried about his future and the escalating intrigues in 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 occupying army there can be redeployed along its border with the warlike nation of Bovaria.
Quaeryt has managed to conceal the fact that he is an imager, since the life expectancy of imagers is short. His voyage to Tilbor is filled with pirates, storms, poisonings, attempted murder… and the discovery that he is not quite who he thought he was.”
After Action Report:
In practice, there are two solutions to mental stagnation. The first is to innovate; take the established scenario or problem and approach it with new ideas or a different perspective. The second is to do something else. If Modesitt successfully innovated in Imager’s Intrigue, the third book in the Imager Portfolio, he is now using the second tactic, abandoning everything but the setting from book three. Scholar upends the progression of the series by taking us back to the formation of Solidar and a new/old Imager who helped create the nation that Rhennthyl fights to defend.
To be fair, this isn’t a new tactic to Modesitt. He frequently abandons major protagonists, storyline events and even time periods, to inject new life into flagging series. For me as a reader, this can get a little annoying. I don’t like being kept in the dark about characters I’ve come to care about. But from the perspective of a reviewer, this methodology is kind of a blessing. Not only can it bring a new energy to a series, but I can actually talk about the plot without having to worry about spoilers.
Scholar introduces us to Quaeryt, (more names I can’t pronounce OR spell Modesitt? Well, screw you too) a Scholar with latent imaging powers. Scholars are sort of like the Greek philosophers. They’re professional intellectuals who catalogue information and are patronized by the nobility to publish books and… think? The scholar-patron relationship isn’t explored extensively. Quaeryt is worried about becoming too visible (and too annoying) in the capital and gets himself sent to the northern province of Tilbor to… solve a problem? Or maybe just observe and report… Again, the terms of his missions are left hazy, which gives Quaeryt room to act, but leaves the reader a little confused about the details of the mission.
The plot bumbles around for a few chapters, dealing with the difficulty in getting to Tilbor. Some of this bumbling is incredibly extraneous and only serves to introduce us to concepts that will probably become relevant in later books, but are almost never mentioned in Scholar. Once Quaeryt arrives in Tilbor, the book begins to play an interesting game. As the reader, we experience all of the information that Quaeryt is discovering, but we aren’t privy to all of his conclusions. This is actually sort of frustrating early on in the book, when Quaeryt is using his familiarity with the setting to jump to conclusions that we couldn’t possibly reach.
Quaeryt is obviously supposed to be a distant sort of foil to Rhennthyl. Where Rhenn is willful and impulsive, Quaeryt is introspective and cautious, almost to a fault. Quaeryt’s imaging abilities reflect this as well, with a stronger emphasis on stealth and subtle manipulations, and little in the way of direct power until the end of the book. I was particularly impressed with how Quaeryt develops his powers on his own. The experiments he does in order to improve his abilities are well described and quite interesting, particularly from the perspective of an audience who is already familiar with the capabilities of a full-fledged imager. These same experiments could have been incredibly repetitive and dull, and it is to Modesitt’s credit that they are not.
So, Scholar is a good book and the story being told is interesting and worthwhile, but is it good to have a series split like this into two non-interacting stories? I don’t know the answer. You could, in theory, choose not to read any of the books in this alternate time period and wait for the next proper ‘Imager’s’ book and you certainly wouldn’t miss anything critical. (Probably) I suppose I tend to fall on the side of this being a somewhat cynical ploy to sell more books, but that doesn’t make it bad reading.