Review of IMAGER'S CHALLENGE by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see his website)
IMAGER PORTFOLIO #2
Tor Books, October 2009
Imager-Master Rhenn has survived assassination attempts, political intrigue, and abusive fellow-students in the Imager college. By handling those problems, however, he's created even larger difficulties for himself. First, the Imager community (imagers are magicians who can manifest things by mental force) survives by keeping a low profile. Imagers are powerful, but they're a small minority...a minority that's actively wiped out in most nations and only tolerated in Rhenn's country. Too much visibility, too much attention to how arbitrarily an imager could murder...by, for example, creating an undetectable heart attack, could bring back the wars that have nearly destroyed imagers in the past. Second, he's earned an enemy in the richest and most powerful lord, Ryel D'Alte. The High Holders (lords) have made an art form of their revenge and D'Alte is systematically going about ruining not just Rhenn, but most especially his defenseless family.
The Imager Collegium lets Rhenn to know, in no uncertain terms, that they will offer him no direct assistance unless he can bring them unassailable proof--something he cannot do. Fortunately, he isn't completely on his own. His girlfriend comes from a wealthy Pharsi family. The family has contacts in various underworlds and is willing to pitch in to help Rhenn. Of course, his imager powers are strong enough to defeat most direct attacks...but it's the indirect approach that has him worried.
Rhenn is assigned to serve as liason between the Imagers and the Civic Patrol, and soon finds that corruption and bribery are rampant in the local police force, and that local crime leaders control the streets while an increasing percentage of the population uses drugs while waiting for a chance to riot... something that's being encouraged by national enemies.
Author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of SF/F by Modesitt) continues his Imager series with IMAGER'S CHALLENGE. I found this book easy enough to read (although it soon became clear that Rhenn would never miss a meal or a glass of wine), and holding enough of Modesitt's engaging writing to keep my interest through the story. Rhenn's situation, with powerful enemies who choose not to confront him directly (something that has led to short lifespans for anyone who's confronted him in the past) is sympathetic and it's interesting to speculate how Rhenn might resolve his problems while staying true to the Imager code. Ultimately, I found Rhenn's solution to be less clever and less interesting than I was hoping for. Despite the promising beginning and the buildup, the resolution of this book came off, to me, as either rushed or attempting to make a political statement I simply didn't understand.
Modesitt is an uneven writer. Some of his books have been brilliant. Others only so-so. His writing is always engaging, however, and I've never found one of his books I didn't want to finish. While IMAGER'S CHALLENGE has its high points, I'd have to put it in the lower bracket of Modesitt's works.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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