Review: Imager (Imager Portfolio #1) – L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Kindle version purchased by me

Summary:

Imager is the beginning of a whole new fantasy in a whole new magical world from the bestselling creator of Recluce. Although Rhennthyl is the son of a leading wool merchant in L’Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, the most powerful nation on Terahnar, he has spent years becoming a journeyman artist and is skilled and diligent enough to be considered for the status of master artisan—in another two years. Then, in a single moment, his entire life is transformed when his master patron is killed in a flash fire, and Rhenn discovers he is an imager—one of the few in the entire world of Terahnar who can visualize things and make them real.

He must leave his family and join the Collegium of Imagisle.  Imagers live separately from the rest of society because of their abilities (they can do accidental magic even while asleep), and because they are both feared and vulnerable. In this new life, Rhenn discovers that all too many of the “truths” he knew were nothing of the sort. Every day brings a new threat to his life.  He makes a powerful enemy while righting a wrong, and begins to learn to do magic in secret. Imager is the innovative and enchanting opening of an involving new fantasy story.

Review:

Modesitt is an author who has been publishing longer than I have been alive, and yet I somehow never got around to, even though I knew I probably should. So when this showed up on sale, I decided to take the plunge. And, ultimately, I’m left frustrated.

On the one hand, I did enjoy this book. On the other hand, I felt like it could have been more.

This book is a slow burn. A very slow burn. The first 20% deals with Rhynn’s life as an artist. The next 20% deals with his time at school. Action doesn’t really start until about the half-way mark, and the story really gets going at the 60% mark. It’s worth reading, but this book could have benefited from editing. There are a lot of discourses in this book about the nature of people and of government, and even of law. It technically adds depth to the world, but it is wasted depth, because it ultimately adds nothing and just gives Rhynn more time to ponder this question or that. It may be interesting at first, but ultimately gets to the point that only a student of political science won’t find themselves getting a bit antsy at yet another speech. The book could be another twenty pages shorter and I don’t think you’d really notice. And I say this because he ultimately isn’t saying anything new, or that hasn’t been said, and none of his worlds are so unique that it makes you go, “yeah, I want to learn more about it.”

In fact, the world building in general is a disappointment as a whole. Not only is there nothing unique, but it seems wholly derivative, so much so that the days of the week are little more than bastardized French, and if you actually knew the true French names, you may just be driven crazy because it looks more like he misspelled a day, than recognizing it as a day of his own creation.

The magic itself is cool on the surface – Imagers literally create things from nothing, requiring only energy. How they manipulate the energy to do this isn’t quite explained. For example, if they can Image in their sleep, why do they need to be able to see to do their craft? And for some reason, never explained satisfactorily, lead can protect an Imager from him or herself. It’s a system of magic that breaks down if you think about it too much and this is the kind of system that almost needs over-explanation.

As for Rhynn, he’s one of those characters: no matter how much you like him, you can’t help but have a part of you that dislikes him. As an artist, he’s so good that when he tries to find another position as a Journeyman, no one will take him because he’s too much a threat financially to the other Masters. As an Imager, he goes from raw recruit to the lowest level master over the course of a book – maybe a year. I get that they promote on skill over time spent learning, but seriously, it’s hard to take his ridiculous rise to power without some eye-rolling. Modesitt does at least make him mostly likable, and when combined the conceit that he’s got to be special in some manner to make the story interesting, you can definitely get vested in the character, but a little more roughness around the edges might have been nice. I’ll be honest though, I prefer his girlfriend and her family over him. Though “just” merchants, they clearly have a far more interesting background and I might have liked spending more time with them.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder if Modesitt is one of those authors who has final say over the editing of his books. I can’t recall how many times I saw Rhynn mention that he was going out “with full shields,” or how many times the varietal of wine was mentioned. There’s an inherent wordiness that drags down the momentum of the story, especially since there are so many passages that begin “Vendrei was slower than Jeudi.” Again, it’s not a book killer, it’s just something that may or may not be of concern to you.

I did enjoy reading this book, but I felt like with some editing, it could have been more. From what I can tell, the Imager Portfolio is currently a trilogy, a quintet, and now he’s starting a third series of indeterminate length. I’m not entirely convinced I want to continue on. It ultimately is traditional fantasy with some pacing issues and a magic system and world that sound more impressive than they actually are. It’s an easy enough read that I can give it a recommendation if you’re like me and want to see if Modesitt is for you, but from what I understand, his Recluse series is stronger over all, and you may be better served starting there.

Verdict: Borrow It. It’s traditional fantasy with some problems. Although he clearly has a strong fan base, I can’t say I feel like I’ve missed out by waiting so long to pick him up, and odds are, if you’ve gone this long without reading him, you’ll probably feel the same.

Available now.

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