1/12/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: TOR/Forge. 432 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2034-6).
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
Rhennthyl wants to be an artist, don’t you know. His father is a down-to-earth wool factor with a pragmatic interest in trade and his younger brother, Rousel, is content to follow in Dad’s footsteps. Rousel marries Remaya, an enchanting young lady from a family of Pharsi traders to whom he had been introduced by Rhenn, who rather liked her himself. Rhenn has no interest in trade and has been apprenticed to a Master Portraitist, one Caliostrus, who tends to favour his own son, Ostrius, so that Rhenn tends to get the boring, dirty jobs like grinding paint. However, he does get a few minor commissions and wrestles with the question of whether to paint them warts and all or make the portraits flattering, the latter being the usual mode of business. Caliostrus tells him quite firmly that flattery is the way to go.
The story, ‘Imager’, is set in L’Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, most powerful nation on Terahnar and as with many fantasy books there is a useful map at the start. Modesitt is a great world builder, particularly with political systems, and the urban setting makes a change from the fantasy standards of lords, castles and so forth against a mostly rural background. The map of the city is similar in many ways to Paris and it is all a bit French as far as names go too with a Boulevard D’Este and L’Avenue D’Commercia, not to mention Imagisle in the middle of the city where resides the Collegium Imago. I have to mention it though because it is here that Rhenn goes when he accidentally discovers that he is an Imager, a rare person with the power to visualize things and make them real. Although clearly fantasy, there is a kind of rationale to this because Imagers do not make something from nothing but gather the raw materials from the surroundings. To make a stone paperweight form out of nothing he would draw stone from the building he was in.
The beginning is very low key, a mundane description of Rhenn’s daily life but written in the first person so we are privy to his thoughts and these are interesting. This gentle, almost contemplative mode of writing reminded me somewhat of Gene Wolfe’s work but I must say, contrary to literary if not popular opinion, that I sometimes find Wolfe’s books tedious and my eyelids are prone to droop after a certain quantity of pages. This is not the case with L.E. Modesitt who, whilst eschewing melodrama, still manages to maintain interest. There is much description of Rhenn’s studies, work and social life, including very precise details about his meals. I suspect Mister Modesitt is something of a gourmet.
I was bothered by the ethics of our young hero at times. He first kills a man in self-defence but then goes to an execution and kills three prisoners just to practice his power. Admittedly, he kills them a fraction of a second before the trapdoor opens and the hangman's noose tightens round their necks so they were doomed anyway but he killed them. At no point does this seem to worry him. There is also a cynical, realistic, pragmatic view of power passed on to him by his Imager mentors. Idealism is lacking, at least so far. This may change as his character develops.
A very pleasant read. I’m bound to say, without making even the slightest accusations of plagiarism that Rhenn’s story reminded me more than somewhat of the tale of Edeard in Peter Hamilton’s enormous ‘Void Trilogy’. Both are young men with potentially great powers learning to make their way in a sophisticated and sometimes deadly city. Furthermore, Rhenn is set to join the cops in the next instalment, again like Edeard. As I say, this is not to say Modesitt’s work is not original but if you enjoyed Edeard in the ‘Void’ you will probably like Rhenn, too, even though one is ostensibly fantasy and the other is Science Fiction.
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