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Princeps by L. E. Modesitt – Book Read Part 3
After finishing Princeps, I found my suspicion from the middle part of the book confrmed: this is very much a middle novel of a trilogy. The events of the book formed less of a discreet plotline and more a chain of events that will link the first book to the final one. That isn’t necessarily a criticism except for people who strongly prefer standalone books or who jumped into this one without having read the first one. The events of the book wind down to a lull in the storm, so the ending was a satisfying stopping point (for now). Overall I enjoyed the book, but I am withholding judgment on the story until I can see it all play out. So far, so good, but endings make or break a good yarn.
So what was the good and the bad for the final part of the novel?
First, and probably most disappointing to me, was the fact that Vaelora never really got off the ground as a character. She was not a large part of the action of the novel as it related to Quaeryt, so she wa relegated to foreshadowing and texture. I know I keep bringing up the contrast to the first Imager trilogy, but it was pretty stark. There Seliora was a huge part of Rhenn’s motivation–he did what he did in part so that he could marry her. Here Vaelora’s presence in Quaeryt’s life has given him opportunities but, at least so far, has not really changed his behavior, plans, or choices except on pretty trivial, perhaps even superficial, matters. She comes most alive when they are separated and she again becomes a character who speaks through letters again.
That was my biggest issue with the ending and with the book overall.
The book shifts gears yet again for the final quarter or so, becoming a military campaign as Quaeryt leaves the ruined city of Extela for the front lines of his brother-in-law’s war. We get more Quaeryt just doing what he can to survive and make the situation around him better…and just happening to make a huge difference when he does so. It’s a pattern that I think is laying the groundwork for his eventual rise to prominence as the imager to end all imagers. He is a good military officer, a strong leader, and someone who gets shit done. That is a rare and invaluable combination. I look forward to seeing him stretch himself further as the war goes on.
I also look forward to seeing more of the moral conflict that pretty much constantly simmers in the back of Quaeryt’s mind, now. It’s similar to what Rhenn went through–how can I not do what I can to help, even if the only thing I can do compromises my moral righteousness?–but on a macro scale, because Quaeryt is never (with perhaps one or two exceptions) acting to save himself or his family but in order to save a larger group of people, sometimes defined and sometimes not. He is well aware of his own ruthlessness, and he questions his use of murder as the best way of solving a problem every time he resorts to it. I really appreciated his self-awareness of his moral quagmire. In it you see the seeds of the Collegium and why it so carefully controls who is allowed to work imaging and what they use it for. There are also the seeds of the relationship between Collegium and ruler: that is, an uneasy respect and the need for imagers to self-police in order to not be eradicated by a king who feared their power.
The ending was shockingly brutal, even though I kind of expected it as it was a parallel to the end of Imager’s Challenge. All the same I was shocked right along with Quaeryt to learn what he did. That effect was the moment I wondered if Quaeryt is the imager against whom all other imagers are judged down through the centuries…the one who sets the standard for what it means to be a Maitre d’Espirit.
The action definitely picks up near the end, though overall this book felt, again, like much more of a bridge than a clearly defined story of its own. This was just the chronicle of a few months in the life of Quaeryt, and how he gets from Point A to Point Z on a lot of different levels. I’m definitely excited to see how the war games play out and how Quaeryt’s own schemes come to fruition…but since there’s a few months before Imager’s Battalion is due out (January, with a much better cover!), I’m just glad Quaeryt found safe harbor to rest in in the meantime.