Book Review – Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
This is the fifth book in Modesitt’s Imager series and continues to follow the exploits of the imager/soldier/princeps/scholar, Quaeryt. (That’s his name. Don’t ask me how it’s pronounced.) In this book, he adds a couple more jobs to his resume, but to say what they are would be a spoiler. In fact, all I will say about the plot is that it is driven by strategy and tactics both political and military. Other than that, I’ll just mention a few things I liked most and least about the book.
(Note: The cover art on the left, which comes from the publisher, TOR, is slightly different from the hardcover version I read. The thing in Quaeryt’s right hand is a loaf of bread. In the hardcover edition, the loaf is wider and much shorter. I think the change was a good idea because, at a quick glance, a juvenile mind might think he’s holding something different on the one shown here.)
What I liked most:
- The world building is great. There is attention to detail that makes the setting come to life. Political and economic systems are described well enough to make one feel as if this world could really function.
- The main characters are vivid and distinguishable, and I liked them well enough to care about what happened to them. This is actually my number one criteria for fiction. If I don’t like at least one of the main characters in the first sixty or so pages, chances are, I’m not going to care what happens to them and may not finish reading the book. Quaeryt (however it’s pronounced) is likeable enough. He’s reasonably intelligent, honest, and has integrity. His wife, Vaelora, is less so. In fact, I found her a bit grating in places, but since she’s clever, young, normally thoughtful, and obviously smitten with Quaeryt, this can be forgiven.
- The magic system is internally logical. As with all magic, one must suspend disbelief to accept it, but once you understand the principles and underlying assumptions, this one makes sense.
What I liked least:
- I’m sure the systems used to measure time and distance also make sense, but as they are unfamiliar, they cause a drag to the story. When it is said that a ‘glass’ or a ‘quint’ passed (time measurements), I found myself pausing to try to remember how long that’s supposed to be. (I think a ‘glass’ is about two hours, but I could be wrong.) The measurements for days and months are less unfamiliar, but the names given to them sound like mock-French, which also causes the reader to pause to try to remember where in the week ‘Samedi’ or ‘Lundi’ fall, for example.
- There is an overly large cast of characters with names, many of them unpronounceable. I understand that some of this is to make the world feel both strange and real, but between the number of characters and their names, it’s easy to get lost.
- The prose and dialog tend to be a bit stiff, formal, and humorless for my taste. This is typical for epic fantasy adventure, though. If these novels were people, I’d say they are taking themselves far too seriously. Although I read almost as much fantasy as I do science fiction, this is one aspect of the epic fantasy subgenre that I don’t particularly care for. This is simply a matter of taste.
This is a long book, 496 pages in hardcover, and it does drag in places where the political intrigue and backbiting gets down into the weeds. The characters and story make it worth persevering through these rough spots, though.
I also noticed a few typos that slipped by TOR’s professional editors. That always happens, and in a book this long, it’s not surprising. I only mention it here because I’ve seen reviews where the number of typos and similar errors are mentioned as a sign of ‘unprofessionalism.’ This is especially true in reviews of self-published books, and I just wanted to mention that these slip by even traditional publishers, of which TOR is, in my opinion, one of the best.
Overall, the book is a good read, and if you’ve enjoyed the others in this series, this one won’t disappoint. Based on the ending, I would expect that Princeps will not be the last Imager novel.