Imager’s Challenge: The Second Book of the Imager Portfolio, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (TOR 2009).
L. E. Modesitt, Jr. has found his way into Reading EKScursions on a number occasions. Imager’s Challenge is the second in the Imager Portfolio series. There is also a review of Imager, the first book in this series.
The Imager Portfolio follows the career of one Rhennthyl. Rhennthyl is the son a middle-class manufacturer who (much to his father’s consternation) pursues a career as a portraiturist but whose career is interpreted when he discovers that he has the ability to mentally manipulate matter at its most basic level—imaging. This takes him into the world of the Imagers’ Collegium where he hones his craft (and is enlisted in the Collegium’s security service). Along the way he meets and falls in love with Seliora, a member of a distrusted ethnic minority called the Pharsi. Some members of the Pharsi possess something called farsight, the ability to see flashes of things yet to come. The first book, Imager, leaves off with with Rhennthyl foiling an assassination plot, though somewhat worse for wear.
Imager’s Challenge picks up after Rhennthyl has mostly recovered from is foray into daring do, only to discover that he has earned the everlasting enmity of Ryel d’Alte, a High Holder. High Holders are the landed aristocracy of Rhennthyl’s country, Solidar. Rhennthyl has also earned the displeasure of his superiors for being less than the covert operative that they would have expected, and so assign him to the city’s Civil Patrol, where there would be no question about what he is about. Rhennthyl immediately runs into trouble. There are a number of assassination attempts upon Rhennthyl and for reasons that are not immediately apparent is instantly disliked by the commanding officers of the Civic Patrol. As a reward, Rhennthyl is assigned to patrol the roughest quarters of the city.
Rhennthyl is inserted in a game of deadly intrigue, with all knives pointed toward him and his family and aid from no quarter, save one. His Collegium will not help because imagers as a whole are distrusted by the larger world, and so policy dictates that they not draw attention to themselves. The aristocracy has its own games to play, and commanders of the Civil Patrol would rather be rid of Rhennthyl. Where Rhennthyl finds aid (aside from his growing abilities as an imager) is from Seliora and her family’s connections. These more than make up for the expedient self-preservation found elsewhere, though it is touch-and-go at times.
Imager’s Challenge really does build on Imager. Fans of the first will not be disappointed with second and will anticipate the next in the Imager Portfolio series. The world Modesitt paints is rich and complex, and while someone coming into this world fresh will not be lost in it, getting a feel of it from the first book can only help. The world of the Imager grows only more sophisticated and nuanced. We also get to see more of Seliora and her extended family. The Pharsi, and Seliora in particular, are a force to be reckoned with. We also get glimpses that there is likely much more to Rhennthyl than even he can guess. Imager’s Challenge is not only a book of intrigue and triumph, growth and understanding. It contains a fair share of loss and sorrow, of unforeseen and terrible consequences, not only for what one has done—even if for the best—but simply being who one is within forces than not even an master imager can control.