Book Review: Imager, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Every now and then a book hits all the right notes with me. “Imager”, book one of the “Imager Portfolio” by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., is one such book. It’s a fantasy novel set in an unfamiliar world with a Victorian era technology level reminiscent of Florentine Italy. Modesitt mixes the familiar with the unfamiliar in interesting ways to create a world we can grow quickly familiar with, and yet still recognize as different.

But that’s not the main strength of the novel. Modesitt really thinks things through. His magic system, while perhaps not developed to the level of detail that Brandon Sanderson goes to on how it works, makes sense within the scope of the world. Imagers, people with the ability to picture something in their mind and have it become reality, make sense within the larger context of the world. Some cultures fear and despise them, killing or imprisoning anyone who shows the ability. Some consider them heretics. In the country of Solidar, where the story takes place, they walk a very fine line in which they must continually prove their worth the ruling council and the public at large to avoid the purges that so many other countries experience. They voluntarily become public servants in order to avoid drawing the ire of that public. Even so, they are feared and unwelcome in many places.

Our hero Rhennthyl is the oldest son of a succesful merchant/industrialist, but has no interest in the family business. Instead he becomes an apprentice portraiturist. But this is all turned upside down when he discovers he is also an imager. Much of the book deals with his training at the collegium for imagers, and so echoes similar stories like “Harry Potter” and “The Name of the Wind”, and yet is different enough that you won’t notice. For one thing, Rhennthyl is an adult when he enters the collegium, but he’s not the smartest knife in the drawer. He is pretty darn good, but he makes mistakes–errors consistent with his character.

Modesitt weaves an interesting story–interesting enough that you hardly notice there’s not a real strong plot, at least not at first. Discovering the world and how it works is more than enough to keep one’s attention. And when the plot begins to form it turns out to be something significantly less than earth-shattering. And that’s okay. This book is a fine example of the idea that the scope of the plot need not be earth-shattering to make us care. The stakes can be small and personal, and if we care about the character we’ll care about the plot. Such is the case here. We like Rhennthyl. We want him to finally succeed at something and be compensated for everything he’s put up with.

Modesitt knows how to tell a story, and it’s a story that can be appreciated by most any age group. There are adult elements, but not to excess.

I’m eager to get my hands on the next book in the series and see what happens next for Rhennthyl and his family. I have other books ahead of it in line, but you can bet it’ll be there.