I'm a bit behind in The Saga of Recluce and The Corean Chronicles, and I have yet to sample the author's science fiction works (to my shame, I must admit), so I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Imager, and hopefully introduce new SFF readers to L. E. Modesitt, jr., whom I consider the most underrated author in the genre.
Beware of men in power who praise principles; they're either without them or
lacking in perception.
Hallmarks of Modesitt's past novels and series, the first installment in The Imager Portfolio features realistic worldbuilding, deft plotting, an original magical system, multilayered characterization, and a subtle human touch, which result into another intelligent and solid effort.
Rhennthyl, the son of an important wool merchant in L'Excelsis, has devoted years to become a journeyman artist. The status of master artisan is almost within his grasp when his life is changed forever. When his master patron and his son are killed in an explosion, Rhenn realizes that he is an imager, one who possesses the power to visualize things and make them a reality. Forced to leave his former life behind, he must join the Collegium of Imagisle where he'll be trained as an imager. Soon, Rhenn learns that nothing in the world is as it seems and that being an imager is more perilous than he ever believed.
Reality is an illusion based on the understanding of the perceiver.
Modesitt elected to forgo the habitual European medieval setting and created an industrialized environment akin to late 18th century Europe. There are railroads, various machines, and weapons such as rifles. As is his wont, Modesitt's worldbuilding is meticulous and his creation feels "real." Commerce, politics, and religion play a key role in Imager (though religion a little less so), and those aspects add another dimension to the genuine feel of the worldbuilding.
As was the case in the Recluce, the Spellsong, and the Corean books, in Imager Modesitt introduces us to a new and ingenious magical system. Through Rhenn's training, the reader learns how it works and how the Collegium operates in both small-scale and worldwide events.
Told in the first person, the sole POV of the narrative is, naturally, that of Rhennthyl. First person narratives can be tricky, but it's no problem in this book. Indeed, Rhenn is probably one of the most likeable characters created by Modesitt in many a year. The supporting cast features some interesting men and women, chief among those Seliora, her grandmother, Khethila, Madame D'Shendael, and Master Dichartyn. I was a bit disappointed that we don't learn more about them. And yet, Imager is undoubtedly the opening chapter in a much greater tale, so hopefully more will be revealed in future volumes.
Flattery is almost always perceived as either accurate or justified.
As I mentioned, the political, commercial and religious aspects of the story were a nice touch that add depth and realism. Moreover, there is a social undertone hinting at the emancipation of a new generation of capable women attempting to establish themselves and take their rightful place in this male-dominated society. It will be interesting to see how it all fits in the greater scheme of things.
Endemic to most of Modesitt's novels, the pace is steady but not particularly fast-moving. Readers expecting all the bells and whistles found in a variety of epic fantasy series out there could be a bit disappointed by their absence and the slower rhythm of this coming-of-age story.
Having said that, I believe that Imager could well be the best and most accessible first volume he ever wrote. And considering how good The Saga of Recluce, The Spellsong Cycle, and The Corean Chronicles turned out to be, The Imager Portfolio, if it lives up to its potential, could become one of Modesitt's signature works.
The difference between an explanation and an excuse lies with the one receiving
If you have yet to read any of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s books, Imager is the perfect opportunity for you to sample the author's style and tone.
Each chapter begins with a quote, some of which I've included throughout this review. I found many of them quite interesting.
All in all, Imager is a smart and solid effort from one of the most underappreciated talents in fantasy today.
The final verdict: 7.75/10