Imager is the beginning of the new Imager Portfolio series by L.E. Modesitt Jr. Set in a different world than The Saga of Recluce, one still feels the same vibe. In fact, there are several parallels to the Recluce books, and if you’re a Modesitt fan, that’s not a bad thing.
Rhennthyl is an aspiring artist who grew up in a merchant family. He is intelligent, motivated, and well-read, but feels unsuited for following in the footsteps of his father, so we see him transformed from talented painter to gifted wielder of the magic of Imaging. Imaging is the ability to use mental powers to copy or modify physical things — creating refined metal from raw ore, for example. Most of the novel’s plot concerns Rhenn’s move into the Imager guild and his education and eventual employment as an Imager.
One of Modesitt’s greatest strengths is his world-building, and Imager is no exception. The nation and city that Rhenn lives in will feel very familiar to fantasy readers and Modesitt fans in particular. I felt like I was walking around with the Recluce characters. The setting also gives Modesitt the opportunity to soapbox about the benefits of diversity in representational government.
The female characters in the male-dominated world are typical Modesitt. They are supremely competent, highly intelligent, and are more than a match for their male counterparts. Again, for Modesitt this is well-trod ground.
I read Imager in under 12 hours because it’s truly a fun read. The story grows and changes rapidly as Rhenn goes through a lot of personal changes. This doesn’t feel contrived, but is often the result of well-orchestrated turns in the plot. The magic system in Imager is intriguing, and Modesitt gives us a number of fascinating displays of its potential. It’s magic alright, but there are rules and complications that preclude some of the nonsense that fantasy sometimes delivers.
If you are a fan of solid, sequential fantasy, then Imager should be right up your alley. It’s not your epic, highly stylized fantasy, but Modesitt stays rooted in the common-sense approach to world building that gives us real characters, real events, and real political themes to fill in the blanks. The rise of a middle-class kid to greatness — always a fun theme — is still a plot that keeps the pages turning.