Imager review

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Imager is the first novel in the Imager Portfolio trilogy by L.E. Modesitt Jr., a very prolific author with over fifty novels written since the eighties. The book is my first taste of Modesitt, which I decided to pick up in audiobook format after reading a couple of interesting reviews about this particular work. I admit that I knew the name but not really anything about his previous novels. The two follow-ups, Imager's Challenger and Imager's Intrigue are already out.

Imager is the story of Rhennthyl, a journeyman apprentice to a master portraiturist suddenly becoming aware that he can image things out of nowhere. As for many new imagers, after performing possibly dangerous imaging without the necessary knowledge, Rhenn will find himself taking the road to Imagisle, to enter the Collegium Imago, with a career as an Imager as a last resort. Swiftly going up the ranks of the Collegium, he will spend most of his time in training to eventually find himself entangled in assassinations attempts, while trying to find love and do his job as a security messenger at the council of L'Excelsis.

The magic system, built from the concept that certain people can actually "image" (create) things pictured in their mind into reality is at the heart of the tale told in Imager. While being sufficiently original to support the imaginative side of the book, the journey in which Rhenn find himself to become a master of this particular discipline is not particularly exciting and seems too often redundant.

The first years narrated in the novel describe the life of Rhenn as a journeyman portraiturist. This almost made me put the book down. Pages after pages about the young man making portrait made me feel like the model posing without moving for hours; bored. However, when Rhenn is going about the city, things seem significantly more dynamic. Hopefully, an accident happens and Rhenn's career will be reoriented toward the magical art of imaging.

Then again, when Rhenn studies start at the Collegium, the books returns to its redundant state. The guy wakes up, train, study, speak with a couple of fellow students and end up being lectured by Master Dichartyn, again and again. Then on the weekends, he will meet with his family or with his love interest, the Pharsi (kind of pun for Far-see I think) Seliora. At least, the assassination attempts of his life will eventually add a dose of action and intrigue into the narrative.

Among the side cast, the most compelling character is Master Dichartyn, the gruff teacher with a knack to find young imager with potential in anti-spy business. Some of his conversations with Rhenn are really interesting and you feel that he is taking his apprentice to another level and training him to be someone quite important to the Collegium. However, most of the rest of the cast at the Collegium are too seldom present or have only small interactions with Rhenn to be worth taking note.

At least, Rhenn will have to learn to use his imaging skills in imaginative ways. He will create poisons, fill someone's heart with air and learn to put up invisible shields against bullets or other imager's creations. His training and uses of shields end up being the finest uses of the magic system by the author. It doesn't really get farther than this but it's built to be ultimately something of great interest.

In term of general storyline, Imager is pretty straightforward but tries to create some suspense with Rhenn's investigation in his own case of assassination attempt. The problem is that even though I was interested in seeing how it would play out, I found the outcome to be falling flat. Nonetheless, the love story blooming between him and Seliora is well handled. However, with the second book starting there, I could be tempted to give the series another shot.

The book is set in a world on the verge of modernism, i.e. the people are still using coaches but they travel long distances in train and where they can draw a pistol as well as a sword. The political situation of the country of Solidar is explained thoroughly, ruled by the council of High Holders in the capital city of L'Excelsis, where all of the action takes place. A worthy effort in term of world-building, more so since Modesitt puts a lot of attention to details. Almost every meal taken in the span of the book is meticulously described as are all the wine. Most of the dresses worn by the ladies, the landscape of the city and most of indoor locations are also meticulously made vivid. Sadly, this tend to slow the pace quite frequently.

Finally, a small aside... as a French speaker, I found the naming of the days of the week, the months and city streets to be annoying. It really is a replication of the French words, just changed enough to be slightly bothering.... anyway, this should not trouble you if you don't speak French.

Technically, every chapter starts with an insight about the main topic covered in the chapter. Some of those epigraphs are interesting enough. The cover for the book is nice, in line with most of L.E. Modesitt Jr books. The novel stands at 432 pages and includes some maps of the important districts of the city of L'Excelsis. As for the audiobook narration, its by William Dufris and it's masterfully recited, with nice changes of voice between the protagonist and just the right intonations during the narration to make this slow pace read more interesting to listen to.

review score :

Characterization............. 7 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 8.5 /10
Story.............................. 6.5 / 10
Writing........................... 7 / 10

Overall (not an average) 6.5 / 10

L.E. Modesitt Jr. page


Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of kind of luke warm reviews on this book. It's on my nightstand waiting for me to get to it. I think the concept of the magic system seems really interesting. Hopefully it's an enjoyable read. Regardless, your review did a wonderful job at letting me know what to expect without giving too much away. I appreciate that :)

Phil said...

It's not always easy to restraint from giving away too much.

Anyway, even though I didn't connect with this book, I can admit that it has some elements that could please other people. I hope to read your review soon! :)

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