Saturday, 31 July 2021

Imager (The Imager Portfolio #1)

Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
eBook Publisher: Tor Books
eBook Date: Mar 2009
Pages: 529
Cover Art: Donato Giancola

Off of the back of the majestic light-fantasy/historical mashup that was The Initiate Brother, I was in the mood to spread my fantasy genre wings a bit more broadly, so I decided to delve headfirst into heavyweight territory and begin a series by prolific author L E Modesitt Jr. This series is collected together as The Imager Portfolio and consists of a total of twelve books at the time of writing.

This is full on fantasy with a captial "F". However, rather than wrapping this up in medieval society trappings with winged horses, dwarves, elves, hobbits and the suchlike, here we have a refeshingly advanced setting more in common with the Industrial Revolution and early Victoriana where there are (at least in this first book) no fantastical creatures to populate the pages or plot.

Modesitt has been around a while, and I was already well aware of his range of work and knew that he invests himself into fairly lengthy book series (The Saga of Recluse being the one I see everytime I wander around a bookshop - I think he's up to something like book 22 by now?), so I was prepared to invest a sizeable chunk of my time, and had an idea that with The Imager Portfolio already being listed at twelve installments of fairly lengthy novels this was going to potentially not be a fast-paced opener.

I wasn't wrong, Imager takes its time to tell its' story. However, Modesitt does it with such panache and skill that you cannot be anything but impressed. He has achieved that uncanny talent of making a day-to-day journal seem a lot more interesing than it should be. Hats off to him for that. Just when you start to think, oh this is getting a bit repetitive now, he pull out a surprise or two to keep things fresh or buck you up out of your seat and keep reading. Imager is one of those books that keep you wanting to read "just one more chapter before bed". It helps that the chapters are short too - I always find myself reading novels with short chapters so much quicker than ones with the opposite.

Imager is probably the first fantasy book I've read where the tale is told from the first person narrative - not a popular thing in my experience for this genre. I must admit when I read the first few pages I was a little shocked and suddenly wondered if I would be able to stick with it. The thought of ploughing through up to twelve novels in the head of a single person didn't sit well with me straight out of the box. I don't know why I had that biased opinion, espcially when you consider that some of my all-time favourite fiction are also first person narratives like The Big Sleep (Chandler) and The Name of the Game is Death (Marlowe). 

The good news is that the first person narrative form works perfectly for the tale that Modesitt is telling. The story revolves around the life of Rhennthyl, the son of a successful wool-merchant who begins the novel as an apprentice portraiturist in the city of L'Excelsis, the capital of the land of Solidar. Despite being a dissapointment to his father, who wishes Rhenn to succeed him in his trade, the family support his artistic ambitions and he continues to garner experience from his teacher Master Caliostrus. Unfortunately, the young man has to compete with the other apprentices, one of whom is the Masters' son, Ostrius. They do not see eye to eye, but wary of upsetting his only means of work that inspires him, Rhenn tries to steer clear of his rival as much as possible and simply cocentrate on developing his art.

It is whilst doing such as this that Rhenn begins to imagine how to improve his own portraits. He has managed to acquire a small reputation for painting more realistic images of children. A few well-to-do families of L'Excelsis approach Master Caliostrus and commission Rhenn to paint thier sons or daughters. As he struggles to get his work to be as accurate as possible, the apprentice imagines precisly how he could improve tiny parts of his pictures - and then suddenly they are exactly as he thought they should be. Rhenn realises that he has 'imaged' something out of nothing - but despite knowing this, he keeps his new-found ability to himself and decides to use it to achieve his dreams of becoming a Master Portraiturist and one day have a studio of his own.

The land of Solidar is part of a very realistic world created by Modesitt. The socio-political structures ecompassing trade with other countires, political turmoil and social etiquette are incredibly detailed and completely compelling in their realism. He even has days of the week, food, wine and a caste system that play an important role in Rhenn's tale and captures the daily life in L'Excelsis allowing you to totally immerse yourself in this fantasy world. It is very elaborate and accomplished. This is why Imager is able to keep you entralled page after page after page.

As I've mentioned above, just when you think things may be getting monotonous, something unexpected happens to pull you back into the story with a jolt. In the end, I have to say that the book, despite it's way of describing Rhenn's daily life, is genuinely exciting and has plenty of action and mystery - I was pleasantly surprised when what I thought had been a foregone certainty turned out to be anything but. I have to hand it to the author for pulling that out of the bag.

I've only touched very lightly on the plot of Imager. There is a hell of lot of stuff going on that Rhenn is oblivious too as young man, and this novel allows you to take the journey with him and see how he matures and grows aware of the world around him from a very innocent beginning. I am looking forward to following his progress into further books of the series - there is a long way to go so I hope it can live up to this great start.

The Imager Portfolio and The Saga of Recluse are available in eBook format, and at some very reasonalbe prices if you are willing to buy multi-volume editions. Most (if not all) of Modesitt's work is available electronically at all good online retailers.

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