Princepsis a direct follow-up to Scholar and continues the story of Quaeryt, the Scholar/Imager. In Scholar, Quaeryt grew greatly both as a person and as an Imager through his service to Lord Bhayar in investigating the reason for heavy military requirements in the province on Tilbor. Quaeryt’s resounding success in figuring out the underlying issue and protecting Lord Bhayar’s interests is rewarded by an appointment as Princeps of Tilbor and marriage to Bhayar’s sister, Vaelora.
As Princeps of Tilbor, Quaeryt has a lot of his plate while managing the administrative and financial aspects of the province. Quaeryt is responsible for working out the details when merchants or tradesmen seek concessions or to negotiate with the government. This is a great teaching and learning experience for a well educated Scholar, and prepares him for the next phase of the story.
After a natural disaster in the province of Extela, Quaeryt and his wife are called by Lord Bhayar to take control and re-assert order. One interesting part of this is L.E. Modesitt’s re-use of an ethnic group’s gift for precognition. Vealora’s grandmother had seen a vision of this a natural disaster taking place, but did not know when it would occur. The events surrounding the relocation to Extela, and Quaeryt’s efforts to establish a working government and to keep people fed, are ground well-covered by Modesitt in many of his other books. It doesn’t make it less interesting, but it does feel familiar. Quaeryt also comes into conflict with some of the greedy, self-interested local nobility. I liked the way that Modesitt did not paint all wealthy people with the same brush in terms of profiting from the misfortunes of others. It’s actually a very relevant political theme in modern society, but I can’t tell if Modesitt meant it as such or merely another of the philosophical ideas that he is wont to embed in his writing.
Quaeryt’s expected success in responding to the disaster and re-establishing order comes at a cost. As in most cases where an outsider comes in and challenges the status quo, there are a number of factions within the city who call for his removal. For me this was a powerful comment on the social behavior of certain types of people, who are happier with the poor performance of an incompetent administrator they can manipulate over a superior, effective administrator who does not allow inefficiency to persist. For Quaeryt this means that he is called to serve Lord Bhayar directly in the lead-up to armed hostilities with another nation that is seeking to take advantage of the turmoil brought on by the disaster.
Princeps is another solid Modesitt novel. It’s nothing special in and of itself, but there are definitely elements of the book, including the philosophical discussion, that are well worth reading. Quaeryt is not a dynamic heroic character, but he is interesting because he uses tactics that are rooted in common sense and hard work. Putting that together with the long-established writing style and world development that Modesitt has mastered, and you have a good book for fans of the author. Clearly there is more to come from Quaeryt, and I look forward to seeing what happens next and how his life provides a continued foundation for the future that we have already seen in previous books.