Review of IMAGER by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see his website)
VOLUME ONE OF THE IMAGER PORTFOLIO
Tor, March 2009
Unwilling to work for his father as a wool factor, Rhennthyl apprentices as a portrait painter. The death of his master in an explosion Rhennthyl feels responsible for leaves him talented but unable to find a new master to complete his Journeymanship. But Rhennthyl has noticed that he has at least a bit of the magical talent of imaging and crosses the bridge of hope to the college of imagers hoping he'll be able to find a position. Once there, he finds himself pushed to his limits, trained in different aspects of magic, and used as a stalking horse for those who seek to destroy the imagers. Indeed, it isn't long before one or more assassins is after Rhennthyl, attacking him almost every time he leaves the campus. Which he has to do pretty often as he's fallen for a beautiful (and wealthy) girl.
Author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Modesitt) seems to specialize in stories of young men who feel out of place and who finally find their position in a place that once held their greatest fears. Fortunately, he does this very well. Modesitt's strength comes in his world-building and IMAGER gives us an intriguing world with an interesting magical system, various competing nations governed by different institutions (theocracy, oligarchy, despotism, oligarchic republic, etc.) A strong romance adds to the story's interest and lets us see Rhennthyl as something beyond a collection of unusually strong magical abilities. Most young men feel a degree of alienation and wish they were uniquely strong, wish beautiful young ladies would seek them out, wish their talents could be recognized, that they could be trained by stern but kind masters who'd unveil the secrets they know exist. Modesitt's strength as a writer is in capturing these universal feelings and giving them his own special magic. It helps, of course, to be a fan of world-building. There is definitely a lot more world here than the actual plot requires.
Fans of Modesitt's RECLUSE series may find IMAGER familiar. Modesitt isn't really breaking new ground here, but he's doing a fine job in reclaiming his strength.
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