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- Published on Amazon.com
Imager's Intrigue, the third novel in L.E. Modesitt's IMAGER PORTFOLIO fantasy series, starts a few years after the events of Imager's Challenge. The young master imager Rhenntyl is now a successful Captain in the Civic Patrol, which makes this new novel initially feel very similar to the previous book in the series. He's also happily married to Seliora and has a 3-year-old daughter, which is a refreshing touch, because how many fantasy heroes are ever shown with a young family like this?
The first third of Imager's Intrigue is extremely exciting and possibly the most enjoyable part of the series so far. By now, Rhenn has become a fascinating, well-rounded character, and his adventures in the city of L'Excelsis, dealing with an increase in drug overdoses due to a suspiciously stronger variety of elveweed, lead up to a stunning mid-novel climax.
After this, the novel slows down considerably as the main intrigue, which again combines local Solidar politics with an international plot, quickly gets very intricate. There's lots of politics in this middle third of the book, and it occasionally feels a bit crowded and confusing when Modesitt Jr. introduces the various players. Many of them have similar-sounding names (thank goodness for the handy character list at the front of the book) and the connections between all those different actors initially aren't always clear. Because of L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s familiar first person p.o.v., reading that part of the novel can be as confusing for the reader as experiencing the events seems to be for Rhenn -- but rest assured that all the different strands are connected and resolved more than satisfactorily in the end.
Another recognizable L.E. Modesitt Jr. feature is the focus on the everyday details of the protagonist's life. Especially in the first part of the novel, the author consistently includes Rhenn's daily routine in each chapter, including the imager group workout in the morning, dropping off his wife and daughter at their place of business, reading the newspaper during the rest of the coach ride to work (which also provides a handy way to keep the reader informed of the international situation), and so on. All of this information is even included when nothing eventful happens, and as a matter of fact, Modesitt Jr. will only rarely write things like "the rest of the week was routine" and instead usually describe that routine in some detail. Even though this may sound a bit dry and even boring, it's strangely enjoyable to read because it genuinely helps the reader's understanding of, and immersion in, the hero's world and mindset.
One of the most interesting aspects of the IMAGER PORTFOLIO series is its setting: Solidar is a country in the middle of its industrial revolution, with new technologies such as steam engines and machine manufacturing gaining ground and changing the power base in an already complex society. Socially, this creates tension between the guilds, landholders, merchants, and owners of manufactories -- and of course the existence of the Collegium Imago makes things even more complicated. Interestingly, the series will now, in typical L.E. Modesitt Jr. fashion, take a step in a different direction: according to the author's website, the next novel, tentatively titled Scholar, is the first book in a trilogy set well before the events of the first 3 Imager novels, in the time before Solidar was unified.
I would have liked to read more about Rhenntyl too, but on the other hand, things are neatly wrapped up by the end of Imager's Intrigue... and knowing L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s skill and experience in showing and connecting different eras of his fantasy worlds, it's hard not to get excited about a few books set in the past of this already fascinating fantasy universe. A brief conversation towards the end of Imager's Intrigue contains a brief mention of historical figures like Rex Regis and Rex Caldor, and Rhenn is actually compared to a "warrior imager champion" called Bilbryn, so my guess is that's where we're heading in Scholar (which is expected for Fall 2011, but first we're getting treated to a standalone SF novel, Empress of Eternity). Count me excited.