The fourth book in The Imager Portfolio takes place hundreds of years before the events of Imager. Quaeryt is a young scholar who is the friend of the ruler of Telaryn, Bhayar. He is also an imager, a power that he has been concealing for years. Not liking the idea of being in the middle of a great deal of court intrigue and perhaps outstaying his welcome, Quaeryt manipulates his friend into sending him to Tilbor, a country that had been conquered by Bhayar’s father ten years previously.
Tilbor is not exactly a vacation hot spot, and Quaeryt actually has a job to do: he has been assigned as the scholar assistant to the princeps. (The princeps in turn is a sort of assistant to the governor. “Princeps” seems to be a mid to high level administrative rank.) Quaeryt’s job is to discover whether or not it would be a good idea to redeploy the occupying army in Tilbor to the border of a country Telaryn is currently on the verge of war with.
Before Quaeryt leaves, he makes the acquaintance of Bhayar’s youngest sister Vaelora, which turns out to be extremely significant, as she seems to want to be his pen pal. Having a young noblewoman as a pen pal is not something that is exactly safe for a young commoner to have, even if he is friends with the young noblewoman’s older brother. (“Safe” however is not something Vaelora is concerned with, and there seems to be some tacit approval from Vaelora’s brother because Quaeryt does not end up at the bottom of the nearest body of water with rocks tied around his feet. That said, Our Hero is very careful to be very polite and formal in his letters to Vaelora.)
Quaeryt’s trip turns out to be an adventure. (If by “adventure” you meant “horrible disaster.”) The first leg of the trip ends with Quaeryt hiding from the constabulary because the town patrol decided to make being a scholar illegal. He ends up in a shipwreck during the second leg of his trip, and ends up running from bandits. He escapes, and collapses on the doorstep of a large farm, sick and extremely delirious. The owner of the holding takes him in and nurses him back to health.
From there, Quaeryt finally makes it into Tilbora where he learns about the local history and the political tensions of the region. This occasionally involves being shot at. He also discovers that the governor is definitely up to something, something that would be very bad for the country as a whole.
This was an engaging fantasy full of political intrigue and action. Quaeryt is an interesting and engaging character, obviously clever and just a few steps ahead of his opponents. Watching him figure out the political situation and then find a way to solve the problems he encounters was entertaining and exciting. Another aspect of the story that interested me was the way imaging was handled. Modesitt manages to indicate that at this time, imaging was not very well understood, so none of the practices and precautions common in Rhenn’s time are present with just a few hints (as opposed to hitting the reader with anvils of exposition).