I really looked forward to L.E. Modesitt‘s return to the Imager series. The first book, Imager, was typical Modesitt fare, but it felt like he was trying out some new stuff. In Imager’s Challenge, I felt like we went right back to where we were before Imager.
After the events of Imager, Rhennthyl, the main character, had been through the typical Modesitt transition. He had become a powerful, organized, highly methodical, politically correct male hero. For readers familiar with Modesitt’s earlier work, this is exactly the same hero we have been reading about forever. Modesitt’s main characters are decidedly politically correct and Modesitt spends a lot of time promoting gender equality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a genre that is replete with stereotypes that trend the other way, but to longtime fans, it feels like well-trod ground.
In Imager’s Challenge, Rhenn still has the problems of the previous book to cope with. He still has a tendency to stand up for what’s right, even when his superiors advise against it, and he reaps their disdain when his actions fail to live up to their intent. Rhenn’s ongoing feud with a noble family continues to threaten those he loves. And of course, Rhenn is deeply besotted with one uber-girl and remains her willing lap-dog despite any temptation to the contrary. So, there are lots of elements that could add up to an interesting story.
My problem is that I felt like I was plodding through another Recluce novel. Rhenn spends half the novel either painting or going on patrol with the local police-equivalent. The action scenes came and went too quickly. Worst of all, if you are a Modesitt fan, you know from the first half of the book exactly how everything would end. After the promise of change and growth as an author, Modesitt simply slipped right back into the almost novel-by-numbers pattern that has been so pervasive in his other fantasy series.
I liked Imager’s Challenge and as a long-term Modesitt fan, I would read it again. I was sorely disappointed that my perception of a break with the old style was not realized. Imager’s Challenge might as well be a Recluce novel, and Rhenn falls squarely back into the ranks of all the other Modesitt heroes we know so well. It’s a good book, but it’s not a breakthrough to something new.
Imager’s Challenge is the second book in the IMAGER PORTFOLIO, the latest fantasy series by L.E. Modesitt Jr. The author is probably best known for his ongoing SAGA OF RECLUCE, but for readers who may be daunted by the length of that series, the IMAGER PORTFOLIO is a great way to try the work of this talented and prolific writer.
Imager’s Challenge picks up right where Imager left off. Rhenntyl, now a master imager at the Collegium Imago, has succeeded in foiling the plot of the Ferran envoy, but because the resulting explosion and deaths have made him more visible (and so less appropriate as a covert operative), he has received a new assignment: he will be the imager liaison to the l’Excelsis city patrol. In the course of this task Rhenntyl learns much more about the less well-off areas (or “taudis”) of the city. He also realizes quickly that not everything in the city patrol is as it should be, and because of this, the garrison’s officers aren’t exactly thrilled to have the resourceful and observant imager in their ranks.
Several sub-plots are deftly interwoven in the story. First of all, High Holder Ryel, whose son was blinded by Rhenntyl in Imager, begins to plot his revenge. On the other end of the social spectrum, a young taudis boy with imaging talent is delivered to the Collegium Imago, and the contrast with the now relatively powerful and experienced Rhenntyl effectively highlights how much he has changed since the start of the series. Finally, L.E. Modesitt Jr. explores the growing romance between Rhenntyl and Seliora. These sub-plots are integrated seamlessly into the main story and lead to a thrilling conclusion.
Stylistically, Imager’s Challenge is almost identical to Imager. The first person narrator, combined with L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s typically dry prose style and attention to even the most minute details, occasionally make the story sound like someone giving a deposition. More generously, you could say that the prose doesn’t get in the way of plot or character development, and Modesitt does a superb job in creating a consistent and original fantasy world.
In short, Imager’s Challenge is an excellent second installment in the IMAGER PORTFOLIO. If you enjoyed Imager, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll like this novel too. Although calling it fast-paced would be a stretch, there’s definitely less exposition and more action in Imager’s Challenge, making this a more captivating read than the first book. It’s not very hard to make some predictions about where the story is heading, but I’m more than sufficiently intrigued to keep reading. As a matter of fact, if book 3 (Imager’s Intrigue, scheduled for November 2010) were already available, I probably would have started reading it right away. Fortunately L.E. Modesitt Jr. is not only a talented writer, but also a fast writer, so at least there won’t a very long wait for his next book!