If you read any of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s novels you are familiar with the basic plot and characters in his books. We have the quintessential hero, a man (or woman in the Soprano Sorceress series) who has unusual talents, sees deeper and farther than anyone else, is self-controlled and emotionally disciplined, struggles to right deep-seated wrongs despite some amount of suffering. The hero is always the person with the talent, the person who grins and ruefully shakes his head at the unfairness and how other don’t understand. The hero is never the actual political leader.
In fact, most of Modesitt’s rulers and leaders are obsessed with power and money and seem to care little for the health of their people. It’s the talented hero who cares and who forces the leader/ruler into governing wisely. The other books in the third Imager series, Madness in Solidar and Treachery’s Tools, fit this formula. Alastar is the enormously powerful imager who leads the collegium to once again serve Solidar and who pushes ruler Rex Lorien to act.
Assassin’s Price is refreshingly different as to the hero. Alastar and the imagers play supporting roles and the lead is young Charyn, heir to Lorien. The novel opens with Charyn acting as do most of Modesitt’s young heirs, petulantly demanding better pistols to overcome his inability to hit targets when he shoots. We don’t see what exactly causes it, but Charyn grows up, matures to take responsible interest in commerce, innovation, people, the country’s finances, legal matters.
Charyn’s father doesn’t want him involved in much, seemingly resents his son’s interest, so Charyn does some of his work quietly. For example, he opens a trading account at the new exchange so he can learn about the factoring businesses that seem to be growing ever larger and richer.
Villains in the past novels play returning roles in Assassin’s Price and we see new, different threats and conspiracies. We get hints at the end that Charyn may increase council involvement in governing Solidar, which may eventually cause the Rex to fade out. (From the first Imager novels set several hundred years after Assassin’s Price we know the Rex institution does not last.) It will be interesting to see how this plays out in sequels.
I’ve complained about Modesitt’s glacial pacing in past novels, books that go on and on without telling us anything new about the people or that have odd scenes that do nothing to advance the plot. People walk and armies march for pages and pages, never really doing much in several Recluce novels, notably Heritage of Cyador and The Mongrel Mage. (The bird attack in Antiagon Fire is a good example of an odd scene that adds bulk without content.)
Assassin’s Price moves along well. There are a few slow spots and a few scenes that move a little too quickly. The confrontations with Ryel and with his wife just happen, blink, and you miss them. But overall this novel has the quality I enjoyed so much with Imager and Scholar. It is by far the best of this new series.
I enjoyed Assassin’s Price considerably more than most of Modesitt’s recent work. He has a story to tell, an interesting and likable character, decent writing, his usual solid world building.
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