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Excerpt: Endgames by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Image Placeholder of - 69Solidar is in chaos.

Charyn, the young and untested ruler of Solidar, has survived assassination, and he struggles to gain control of a realm in the grip of social upheaval, war, and rioting. Solidar cannot be allowed to slide into social and political turmoil that will leave the High Holders with their ancient power and privilege, and the common people with nothing.

But the stakes are even higher than he realizes.

End Games by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. will be available on February 5th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

On Lundi morning, the sixteenth of Juyn, Charyn was up earlier than usual, most likely because the day promised to be particularly hot, a reminder that the first days of spring, heralded by the Spring-Turn Ball, were some three months gone, and there wasn’t that much of summer left. Unlike his late father, he was always an early riser, trying to cram in a host of matters before going to his study to begin dealing with the routine daily matters of being Rex. After pulling on exercise clothes, he made his way to the guard post in the alcove off the main entrance to the Chateau.

Guard Captain Maertyl turned. “Good morning, Your Grace.”

“Good morning, Guard Captain. Is there anything I should know?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, sir. As I told you on Samedi, Lead Guard Charseyt is on leave for the week.”

“If he needs more time . . .”

“His sister is taking care of the children. She lives within a few blocks.”

Maertyl smiled sadly. “Knowing Charseyt, being here might be better than having too much time on his hands.”

Charyn nodded. He thought he understood that.

He and Maertyl walked back through the Chateau and out into the open rear courtyard and then to the enclosed and covered courtyard where all of the Chateau guards were assembling, not in full uniform, but in trousers and worn shirts. Charyn moved to the corner behind Maertyl.

Maertyl stripped off his uniform jacket. “Guards, ready!”

“Ready, Guard Captain!” came the response.

With that, Maertyl began the morning exercise routine.

Charyn had been joining the guards for exercise most weekday mornings for months, and the majority of guards no longer even looked in his direction. While it might have seemed definitely unregial to Charyn’s father, after all the assassination attempts Charyn had weathered, joining the guards was the safest way to get exercise, and exercise helped not only to keep him fit, which might also increase his chances of avoiding further attempts, but also, at least in part, to keep his mind from dwelling excessively on both Alyncya and Palenya.

Once he finished exercising, he slipped away and up to his apartments to wash up and dress, before going down to the breakfast room. By the time he’d eaten and made his way to his study, right before seventh glass, it was more than clear that the day was going to be hot and hazy, hardly surprising given that it was midsummer.

Just before he reached the circular back staircase, Norstan appeared. “Your Grace?”

The seneschal looked slightly discomfited.

“What is it, Norstan?”

“Sir . . . Chorister Saerlet has requested an appointment for him and Chorister Refaal to see you, today, if possible.”

Charyn frowned. After all that had happened to his family at the Anomen D’Rex, he hadn’t attended services there since his father’s memorial service. Saerlet had sent at least one note saying that he hoped to see the Rex. And Refaal was the chorister for the largest anomen in the city, the Anomen D’Excelsis. He’d also replaced Chorister Lytaarl, who had been the brother of Factor Elthyrd. “Did he say why?”

“His messenger just said that Chorister Refaal had a matter that would be of interest and import to you.”

Interest and import? That could mean anything. Still, his Lundi wasn’t that busy, unlike Meredi, when he had the monthly meeting of both councils.

“I’ll see them at the first glass of the afternoon.”

“Thank you, sir.” Norstan inclined his head.

When Charyn reached the study door, he nodded to Moencriff, one of the two Chateau guards most often assigned to duty outside the study. “Good morning. It’s likely to be quiet today.”

“Nothing wrong with quiet, Your Grace.”

Once he was seated behind the wide table desk, Charyn reached for the copy of the master ledgers provided by Alucar, whose entries he had been perusing over the weekend in preparation for the Wednesday Council meeting. Alucar hadn’t finished compiling the latest figures on shipbuilding and the new shipyard, because the report from Solis hadn’t arrived until late on Vendrei, but Charyn needed a better feel for the other expenditures.

Some four glasses later, he had almost finished jotting down the notes he wanted to review when the chimes struck first glass and Moencriff announced, “Chorister Saerlet and Chorister Refaal, sir.”

“Have them come in.”

The round-faced Saerlet was sturdy, but not fat, his glistening dark black hair slicked back with just traces of white at his temples, and he wore the same dark gray jacket, trousers, and shirt Charyn had seen before when he wasn’t conducting services, while around his jacket collar was the black and white chorister’s scarf that did not quite reach his belt. He stopped short of the chairs before the desk and inclined his head.

Refaal looked to be around fifteen years older than Charyn himself. His face was oval, his skin smooth, and his hair was a dark brown. His jacket, shirt, and trousers were all dark green, as was his scarf.

“Good afternoon, Choristers.” Charyn gestured to the chairs in front of the table desk, then reseated himself.

“Thank you for seeing us so promptly, Your Grace,” offered Saerlet, not quite unctuously.

“I appreciate your willingness to convey information that might be of interest to me.”

“The information came to Refaal,” declared Saerlet, “and I thought you should know.”

“It is information both of interest to me and to Chorister Saerlet, but also to you.” Refaal paused. “Have you heard of the True Believers?”

True Believers in what? was Charyn’s first thought, but he only said, “No, I haven’t.”

“I fear we both may be hearing more of them in the days, seasons, and years ahead.” Refaal continued, “They are a group of former choris- ters and their followers who claim that the majority of choristers of the Nameless have forgotten both the meaning of the Nameless and the true teachings of Rholan. They claim we are misleading those who worship in our anomens.”

“In what way do they claim you’re misleading worshippers?”

“They claim that we urge the people to follow the laws of the land, even when those laws are inequitable and unjust, and that when we do we are urging people to seek the favor of the Nameless in a fashion that promotes injustice.”

“As I have often discussed with the Minister of Justice,” replied Charyn, “the law is not always as just as it could be, and at times there don’t seem to be practical ways to improve certain laws, or to use the law to remedy certain ills . . . but I’m not sure how urging people to follow the laws has anything to do with seeking favor with the Nameless or that not following the laws is more likely to please the Nameless. You don’t assert that, do you?”

“Neither of us would condone that,” interjected Saerlet smoothly.

“We certainly don’t,” added Refaal. “I offer homilies that suggest we should all do our best to follow the precepts of the Nameless, as did Rholan. There are scores of references to what Rholan said about law—and all of them boil down to the same precepts. Justice is what men should do, while law is what codes and powers require them to do, and that is invariably less than what they should do or what the Nameless requires of them. All good choristers are familiar with those words.”

“I’m afraid I don’t see the problem. Have I missed something?” asked Charyn.

The two choristers exchanged glances, before Refaal cleared his throat and said, “Two weeks ago, these True Believers stormed the Anomen D’Ruile. Chorister Tharyn had to flee for his life. These . . . fanatics claim that he is the avatar, whatever that means, of the ancient Tharyn Arysyn who barred Rholan from the anomen in Montagne. They shouted that his presence demonstrated the corruption that has overtaken the anomens of the Nameless.”

“How did you discover this?”

“He wrote me from a small town near Ruile where he is hiding in fear for his life.”

“What about the Civic Patrol?”

“The Patrol Captain there said that since no one was hurt and that the anomen wasn’t damaged and that Tharyn couldn’t identify any of the True Believers, there wasn’t much the Patrol could do.”

“He couldn’t identify people who threatened his life?”

“I forgot to mention that they wore white gowns with hoods that concealed their faces.” Refaal added sardonically, “White for purity, of course.”

Charyn had to wonder if Chorister Tharyn just might be . . . less than the measure of probity presented or assumed by Refaal. Certainly, Charyn’s limited experience in dealing with Chorister Saerlet had been suggestive that Saerlet was always wanting more, ostensibly for his anomen, not that Charyn was about to allude to that, especially at the moment. “It sounds as though Chorister Tharyn has made some enemies. Would you know how that might have happened?”

“He’s a good chorister, and devoted to the Nameless. It’s not just about him.”

Not just about him? Interesting word choice. “If it’s not about him, then what is it about?”

“These True Believers aren’t just in Ruile. Other choristers have reported that there are some in Ferravyl, and in Tilbora and Midcote.”

Charyn frowned. Ferravyl wasn’t that far from Ruile, but Midcote was more than a thousand milles from either. “How long have you known about the True Believers?”

“Chorister Ellkyt in Tilbora wrote me about them two years ago,” replied Refaal. “That was when I was chorister in Talyon.”

“Why did he write you? Did they threaten him?”

Refaal shook his head. “He lost part of his congregation to them.” And part of their offerings . . . and his income, no doubt.

“There have been threats before, but nothing this violent,” added Saerlet.

“You didn’t ever mention anything like this,” Charyn said mildly. “Is that because reports from other choristers went to Chorister Lytaarl as head of the anomen in L’Excelsis?”

“Oh, no,” said Saerlet. “Every anomen is separate. Organizing the anomens, with a head chorister like a High Holder or a Rex . . . that would be a form of Naming. We just correspond with the choristers we know. My family comes from Suemyron, and I know more choristers in Antiago and to the west of L’Excelsis, while Refaal tends to know more in the east.”

“Through all of the east of Solidar?” asked Charyn.

“No, Your Grace. I do know a number. I only know Ellkyt by correspondence because he helped a distant cousin many years ago. He sent me copies of letters from other choristers.”

Saerlet cleared his throat. “I did hear something about the True Believers from Chorister Baardyn last autumn in Eluthyn, but I thought it was an isolated instance.”

“What did Baardyn say?”

“Not all that much. He’d heard of an anomen in Semlem that had been taken over by them . . . that is, before the local High Holder ran them out. High Holder Lenglan, I think it was. The younger, that is. His father . . .” Saerlet shook his head.

Charyn had never heard of Lenglan, although it was clear there was something notorious about Lenglan’s father, but with something around fifteen hundred High Holders, he couldn’t be expected to know, let alone remember, all of them. “Have either of you heard of anything else?”

The two exchanged glances once more, then both shook their heads.

“If you do,” continued Charyn, “I would appreciate your letting me know.”

“We will,” said Saerlet.

“It’s was my duty and pleasure, sir,” declared Refaal. “Perhaps at some time you could come and visit the Anomen D’Excelsis. It dates back to the time of the Bovarians, with some improvements, of course.”

“And, Your Grace,” added Saerlet smoothly, “I know events have weighed heavily upon you, but your presence at the Anomen D’Rex has been sorely missed. I would hope that you might be able to attend services at least now and again. I do believe that it would serve you well if word got around that you were present at services.”

And it would likely serve you well, also. “You make an excellent point, Chorister Saerlet. Indeed, you do.” He paused. “I cannot make a commitment to be there every Solayi, nor would it be wise for me to inform you or anyone when I might again attend services, but your observation has merit, and I will give it serious consideration.” Charyn rose from his chair. “I do thank you both for coming and for letting me know about the True Believers.”

“It was our duty as choristers and as loyal subjects,” replied Saerlet.

Refaal nodded in agreement, then inclined his head, as did Saerlet, and the two turned and made their way from the study.

Once the door closed, Charyn recalled that Refaal had requested a meeting not long after Charyn’s father’s assassination, and that Charyn had deferred such a meeting. Was the talk about the True Believers just a ploy to meet Charyn?

Charyn frowned. With two of them and the specifics they had mentioned, there was likely enough to the True Believers to disconcert the two choristers . . . and, self-serving as Saerlet was about Charyn attending services, he was also right. Charyn knew he had withdrawn from public view far too much . . . but . . . he still needed to be very careful.

Copyright © 2019

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Excerpt: Assassin’s Price by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Assassin’s Price is the eleventh book in the bestselling, epic fantasy series the Imager Portfolio by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. and the third book in a story arc which began with Madness in Solidar and Treachery’s Tools.

Six years have passed since the failed uprising of the High Holders, and the man behind the conspiracy is where the rex and Maitre Alastar can keep an eye on him.

Charyn has come of age and desperately wants to learn more so he can become an effective rex after his father—but he’s kept at a distance by the rex. So Charyn sets out to educate himself—circumspectly.

When Jarolian privateers disrupt Solidar’s shipping, someone attempts to kill Charyn’s younger brother as an act of protest. Threatening notes following in the wake of acts of violence against the rex and his family, demanding action—build more ships or expect someone to die.

Assassin’s Price will become available July 25th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

“Good morning, sir,” offered the duty guard to Charyn as the heir approached the door to the rex’s official study.

“Good morning, Maertyl.” With a smile, Charyn held up a hand. “Not until the glass chimes.”

Maertyl raised his eyebrows.

“He doesn’t like it if I’m early.” Or late. As soon as the first chime of eight sounded, Charyn nodded.

Maertyl turned and rapped on the door. “Lord Charyn, sir.”

Lorien’s response to the guard was inaudible to Charyn, but Charyn had no doubt it was short and perfunctory.

“Thank you,” murmured Charyn as he opened the study door and stepped inside. He closed it quickly and walked toward his father.

“Waiting until the last moment, again, I see,” growled Lorien.

“You did say, ‘as the chimes strike,’ sir.” Charyn smiled pleasantly as he took the middle chair of the three facing the goldenwood desk.

The rex’s study was dark and gloomy, with the only real light coming from the two oil lamps in the bronze sconces on the wall behind the goldenwood desk. The light did not carry except faintly to the large oblong conference table at the west end of the study, where, occasionally, the rex met with either the High Council or the Factors’ Council of Solidar, if not, occasionally, both of the councils. The wind continued its low moan outside the chateau. From where he sat behind the desk, Lorien lifted the sealed envelope that rested on the desk, likely delivered earlier that morning by a guard or a courier. “This just came. It can wait … for a bit.” He set the envelope down. “I received the accounts on your Chaeryll lands. Minister Alucar says that over the past three years, you’ve done well in managing it. He doesn’t know how.”

“I went up there and talked to the tenants, sir. They suggested I let them try potatoes. Alucar had limited them to maize or wheat corn. I did. Because everyone else around there is growing wheat corn, potatoes brought more.”

“How much more?” Lorien’s question was almost a formality, as if he didn’t really care, but felt obligated to ask.

“Around two parts in ten more.” That was conservative. In two out of the three years since Charyn had been gifted the lands, the increased return had been more like four out of ten parts. He’d not only collected the rents personally, but kept track of the harvests. Some of the extra return might have just come from his closer oversight, but he had no way to know. He’d only put half of rents into the strongbox that was his in the family strongroom, since Alucar kept ledgers on each property. Even so, he’d had to use considerable ingenuity to keep a rather significant amount of golds hidden, and that was worrisome. At the same time, he didn’t like the idea of being totally beholden to his sire, not when Lorien might live another twenty years … or at least ten.

“That’s good, but don’t start to think like a factor.” Lorien coughed hoarsely, covering his mouth with a large kerchief. “Half of those that grow things spend more time at their exchange or whatever they call it than in doing what they should. Speculating on what price wheat will have three months from now? Or maize or flour? Ha! Not even the Nameless knows that. And the High Holders are worse in their own way, always moaning about how the weather makes it hard to pay their tariffs.”

Charyn nodded, then watched as his father, with hands that had come to tremble more and more over the last months, opened the envelope. Just from the silver-gray sealing wax even Charyn could tell that it had to have come from High Holder Ryel.

Lorien, without so much as another glance at his son, murmured, “Yet another trial,” and offered a heavy sigh as he began to read. Several more sighs followed.

Knowing that his father would only snap at him if he asked the nature of this particular trial, Charyn kept a pleasant expression on his face as he waited.

Finally, Lorien looked up. “The absolute gall of the man.” He glared toward the window to his right.

Charyn wondered why he bothered, since neither of them could see it, frosted as it was on the inside, even behind the heavy hangings. Although the sun had come out, it wasn’t that warm, even if winter was almost a month away, by the calendar, anyway.

“You read it,” said Lorien, handing the letter across the desk to his son.

Charyn took it and began to read.

8 Erntyn 408 A.L.

Your Grace—

I trust that this missive finds you and all your family in continued good health as we approach Year-Turn, and I offer my best and heartfelt wishes for prosperity in the coming year.

You had asked that I request another year’s extension of my current term as head of the High Council. As you well know, I have already served in that capacity for a full six years. During that time, I have seldom left L’Excelsis and then only for the briefest of periods because of personal travails, notably the early and untimely death of my only son Baryel from the red flux. These past years have been a time of change and of great stress for all, and in consideration of the difficulties we have faced, especially at your suggestion a year ago last Erntyn, I requested from the other councilors a year’s extension of my term as head of the Council, because I did not wish to be considered for another five-year term. They were gracious enough to grant that extension.

What were they going to do? thought Charyn. Deny it when both the rex and the Maitre of the Collegium wanted him to stay?

Much of my family has scarcely seen me for the past six years, and this has placed a great burden on my lady in dealing with Baryel’s children and all the duties of administering the holding. I trust you can understand my desire to return to Rivages.

Charyn had forgotten that Baryel’s wife had died after the birth of her daughter Iryella, leaving the High Holder and his wife as guardians of the holding’s heirs.

Also to be considered is the fact that another extension of my term would be seen as very much against past practice and tradition, and might well generate unrest among those High Holders who have already expressed great concerns about the changes that you and the Collegium Imago have implemented and continue to pursue …

Charyn knew what Ryel wasn’t saying—that the High Holder had no desire to be associated with the additional changes, and that if he stayed he would be forever marked as a tool of the rex and the Collegium. But then, isn’t Father already a tool of the Collegium? Why should he alone suffer that burden?

 … and for these reasons, I would suggest that it would be best for all concerned that you allow the High Council to choose another head of the Council for the next four years, either from the remaining members or from other qualified High Holders.

If not before, Doryana and I look forward to seeing you at the Year-Turn Ball, as do, I am certain, all the other members of the High Council.

Charyn lowered the missive.

“Well?” asked Lorien in a tone that was barely less than a bark.

“He doesn’t want to preside over another increase in tariffs and over any more limits on the powers of the High Holders. He also likely does truly want to leave L’Excelsis.”

“So he can plot from the relative safety of Rivages? That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s always wanted. He doesn’t want to tell all those High Holders who complain every time the weather turns bad that the weather’s always bad part of the time, and that they still need to pay their tariffs.”

“You don’t think that he worries about his grandson?”

“The only worries he has about those children is how he’ll use them to gain power. Karyel is fourteen, and Iryella is eleven or twelve … something like that. If it weren’t for your mother, he’d have been making overtures to marry her to you.”

“Why not Bhayrn? He’s closer in age.”

“Because Bhayrn won’t be rex. Ryel’s always been after power. He was behind pushing my late and unlamented brother to lead the High Holder revolt because he could influence Ryentar.”

Charyn wasn’t about to let his father rage on about his ungrateful brother … or more about Ryel, who was, unfortunately, his mother’s scheming brother. At times, it was hard to reconcile the warm and seemingly kindly Uncle Ryel who had once presented him with new-minted golds on special occasions when he had been barely old enough to remember those events. “You haven’t told me if you and Maitre Alastar talked this over and if the Maitre had anything to say about Uncle Ryel leaving the High Council.”

“No, I haven’t. As you could see, if you even thought, I just received the message early this morning.”

Charyn again had to suppress his desire to snap back. “I have a thought … just a thought, sir.”

“Spit it out.”

“His missive emphasizes that he doesn’t want to be Chief Councilor any longer. He also says that it would be a bad idea for him to continue in that post and that he would like to see his family more, doesn’t it?”

“He just wants to go off and plot.”

“But that’s not what he wrote. You can act in terms of what he wrote, rather than what he may have in mind. What if you agree that his time as Chief Councilor should come to an end—”

“Absolutely not!”

“Sir … might I finish before you make a judgment? There’s more that you might find to your liking.”

“I doubt it, but go ahead.”

“You agree that his time as High Councilor should come to an end, but … but in order for there to be continuity and a smooth transition, he should serve the next year as just a councilor, and that he and the other councilors should choose the new Chief Councilor from the current councilors. That way, he would be free to occasionally travel to Rivages and see his family … but his options for plotting would be limited and much more likely to be discovered while you still have him under some measure of scrutiny. That way, you also can portray yourself as somewhat sympathetic to his concerns.”

“I don’t know…”

“Why don’t you talk that over with Maitre Alastar? Tell him it came up in a family discussion.”

“Why not say you thought it up?”

“Because it’s better that it be seen as … less specific. Either Mother, me, Bhayrn, or even Aloryana could have suggested it. If you do it that way, rather than suggesting it was your idea or mine, the Maitre is more likely to consider whether it is a good idea or not on the idea itself, rather than whether you came up with it or I did.” Charyn smiled self-deprecatingly. “He might think it a bad idea, but how he answers might suggest other possibilities.”

“Hmmmm…”

Charyn had the feeling that was about as much of a comment as he was going to get on that, and he eased the missive back onto his father’s desk. “When do you meet with the Solidaran Factors’ Council?”

“Not until the eighteenth of the month. That’s when I meet with both the High Council and the Factors’ Council. That meeting will be little more than a formality. The meeting in Ianus will be where everyone tells me what’s wrong and what I should do that they don’t wish to pay for. That’s soon enough. Too soon.”

“Are the factor councilors still opposed to the High Council’s proposal to forbid excessive interest rates?”

“No one has told me. Since factors will do anything for gold, and hate to pay even an extra copper for anything, I imagine they are.”

Charyn nodded. “What about the expansion of the regial post roads?”

“I almost wish that Maitre Arion hadn’t disciplined the imagers in Westisle by making them build roads.”

“Weren’t the roads to Liantiago in terrible shape? Didn’t they need rebuilding?”

“They did, but now the factors around Estisle want better roads, and the imagers building the new branch of the Collegium there aren’t established enough to do that yet. The High Holders away from L’Excelsis and Liantiago are complaining that they can’t get goods and crops to markets quickly, and that they’re suffering from an unfair situation.”

That made sense to Charyn, because in the years immediately after the failed High Holder revolt, the Collegium Imago in L’Excelsis had improved and widened the post road all the way to Kephria, as well as sections of the river road from the capital to Solis and the roads north from L’Excelsis to Rivages. “I thought the stone roads in old Telaryn were still in good condition.”

“They are. Most don’t lead to the larger cities or ports.”

“Aren’t the regional governors supposed to supervise post roads?”

“They claim I don’t give them enough golds for all the work that needs to be done.” Lorien shook his head. “There probably isn’t after what they pocket.”

“Maybe…” Charyn immediately broke off his words, then added smoothly, “Perhaps, as you replace each regional governor, you should make it clear that certain roads need to be repaired and improved, and that such repairs will determine in part how long they serve.”

“They’d just steal more until I caught them.”

Charyn was afraid that was true as well, but wanted to keep his father talking, in hopes of learning something he didn’t know. “What about an additional tariff on the banques … the exchanges…?”

“A plague on the banques and exchanges—they’re what led to the revolt. Trading crops and debts and everything instead of producing. Speculation! Bah!”

Charyn nodded, but did not move. He’d learned early that patience was a necessity in dealing with his father … and most people.

Close to a glass later, he left the study, nodding again to Maertyl as he did.

He was headed toward his own chambers before his other appointments when he passed Aloryana’s door, just slightly ajar.

“Oh, no! Noooo!”

Charyn was struck by the distress in Aloryana’s voice, and since her sitting room door was indeed ajar, he knocked and pushed it open. “Are you all right?” Aloryana was straightening up as he stopped in the doorway.

“Oh … it’s you. Thank the Nameless it wasn’t Father. Or Mother!” Aloryana’s eyes did not meet Charyn’s.

“Oh?” Charyn could see that Aloryana held something silver in her hand. He thought he saw bluish gems as well. “Did you drop something?”

“Oh … nothing.”

“It didn’t sound like nothing.” Charyn waited.

“It’s just a hair clasp.”

“Is it broken? Maybe I can fix it.”

“Thank you, Charyn. I’ll take care of it.” Aloryana immediately turned away and hurried into her bedchamber, closing the door behind herself, and leaving Charyn standing alone in the sitting room.

Charyn couldn’t help wondering what she had broken that she didn’t want him to know about. Finally, he stepped back into the corridor and gently closed the door to the main corridor. He thought he heard sobbing, but he was far from certain.

Copyright © 2017 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Throwback Thursdays: Creating a New World of Magic and Mystery

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

On September 17, L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to science fiction with his new novel, The One-Eyed Man. To celebrate, we thought we’d dip into the newsletter archives and pull an article he wrote for us in April of 2009, about Imager, the first volume in The Imager Portfolia fantasy series. Enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!

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Creating a New World of Magic and Mystery with Imager

Written by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

A combination of steampunk, political, semi-thriller, and romantic fantasy? That’s about as close a one-line description as is possible to the books of the Imager Portfolio, which opens with Imager. Rhenn is a journeyman portraiturist on his way to becoming a master painter who discovers, with fatal consequences, that he is one of the few imagers in the city of L’Excelsis, capital of the continent nation of Solidar. Imagers are feared, valued, and vulnerable, and must live separately on the river isle in the middle of the river that divides the capital city, while providing services and skills to the ruling Council.

As a late-developing imager, Rhenn finds himself under the tutelage of one of the most powerful imagers — who forces the equivalent of a university education on Rhenn in months, before dispatching him to serve as a security assistant to the Council. Along the way, Rhenn makes enemies he shouldn’t, falls in love with the beautiful daughter of a family with connections in the underworld, and becomes a target for both the enemies of Solidar and a powerful High Holder.

One of the challenges of writing the Imager Portfolio was to realistically depict a different and sophisticated culture of a capital city. In my own experience of close to twenty years in politics, most of it in Washington, D.C., I found that there was a minimal amount of actual violence, but an enormous amount of pressure and indifference, great superficial charm, and continual indirect jockeying for power, with very little real concern for people as people. I’ve attempted to convey some of those dynamics, as they are expressed in a steam-and-coal-powered society that has the added benefit of some “imaging” magic. One of the key elements that illustrates the difference of this fantasy-steampunk culture is the religion. Because the deity cannot be named, there’s an underlying cultural skepticism and worry about emphasis on the importance of names, memorials, and the like, as well as a distrust of other cultures that exalt names and fame.

Because Rhenn has come to the Collegium Imago in his early twenties, having just begun to achieve a certain recognition as a portrait painter, he’s neither a youth learning the ropes nor a person of fully defined talents. Instead, he is essentially an adult faced with a mandatory career change, and one that could be fatal if he fails to make the transition from portraiturist to imager.

This article is originally from the April 2009 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox twice a month!

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