by L E Modesitt Jr.
This is the first book in the latest series (The Imager Portfolio) from this rather prolific author. I have been reading LE Modesitt since before I left school, and while I would never call his writing great literature I do find his stories entertaining, relaxing, and with occasional moments that really make you think.
The basic story, with very little in the way of spoilers, is that young Rhenn does not wish to follow his father in the wool trade. He becomes apprenticed to a portrait artist, but becomes aware he may have some magical talent, which in his world is called Imaging. In time this prompts him to leave his former profession and proffer himself to the Imager’s College. Life becomes more complex thereon has he learns more about his talent, and his world, and his future place in it.
This is not a stand alone work – the story ends with one particular story arc completed but there are several ones ongoing and new ones forming to carry on in the second book. Some works like this only feel like one part in a very long chain, but Imager avoids this peril very neatly. There is a sense of conclusion by the end of the novel, despite all the threads pointing to future stories.
The pace of the book starts slow, or perhaps deliberate is a better word. No doubt the first third, or so, of the work is largely about fixing ourselves in Rhenn’s world, and in himself. I do not mean only getting to know the nature of his character, but also of his circumstances. What we learn about the world is also strictly limited to his experience. Like many younger folk Rhenn has only a passing interest in the world beyond his own borders, but now and then we get snatches of what this world looks like as it begins to intrude upon his consciousness. As the book gathers pace and Rhenn finds himself exposed to more of the world we begin to learn more, but we leave this book Rhenn is a still a man with much to learn – as do we.
This extends to the realm of magic. I feel the magical is handled very well – described by not explained. In this setting magic – imaging – appears to be a matter of thought projection. The Imager forms an image of what they desire in their mind, and makes it real. Hence the name of their ability. Rhenn learns quite a bit about Imaging by the end of the book, but once again there remain many things to be discovered.
The entire story is set inside a single city. Although people Rhenn knows do travel outside it, and he hears from other places, he himself never leaves its bounds during the entire novel. The city is the capital of what appears to be the most prosperous, and possibly most technologically advanced, nation on this planet. Both these facts give the book a certain insularity which is echoed in many of Rhenn’s own viewpoints. Very much Rhenn is a creature of where he lives. I suspect very much in a future story Rhenn will start to outgrow the narrowness of his birth, and the story is clearly ripe for him to travel at some juncture. The overall technology level appears to be roughly that of sixteenth century Europe, but I do not think it is wise to regard that as something set in stone.
Overall I think Imager had to achieve two things: firstly, and most importantly, to be interesting in and of itself; and secondly to present an interesting world and character to make any readers desire to read the next book. For my own part Imager has succeeded in both of these aims.