#CBR4 Maneuver #6 – Imager’s Intrigue
Profile: Fantasy, Political/Spy Fiction
Summary: From the Back Cover, “In Imager, the first book of the Imager Portfolio, we met Rhennthyl, an apprentice portrait artist whose life was changed by a disastrous fire. But the blaze that took his master’s life and destroyed his livelihood revealed a secret power previously dormant in Rhenn: the power of Imaging, the ability to shape matter using thought. With some trouble, he adapted to the controlled life of an imager.
By Imager’s Challenge, Rhenn had become a liaison to the local and law forces. He found himself in direct conflict with both authorities and national politics as he tried to uphold the law and do his best by the people of his home.
Now, in Imager’s Intrigue, Rhenn has come into his own. He has a wife and a young child, and a solid career as an imager. But he has made more than one enemy during his journey from apprentice painter to master imager, and even his great powers won’t allow him to escape his past.”
After Action Report:
If this month were to have a theme, it would go something like, “Like a *blank* novel except…” Pirate Sun was a sci-fi novel with a high seas flair and Imager’s Intrigue reads like a blend of fantasy and the more sedentary Robert Ludlum books. Fantasy novels tend to get automatically tagged with the labels ‘adventure’ or ‘quest.’ The vast majority of fantasy literature falls into these sub-genres, but Modesitt has created a different sort of playground for his magic user. Rhennthyl, Rhenn for short, is much more like a CIA operative than an epic sorcerer and the world of Terahnar is much closer to our own than to Middle Earth.
As a series, the Imager Portfolio follows a pretty rote pattern. Rhenn starts a new phase of his training, something catastrophic happens or starts to happen and Rhenn forced to put his abilities and his wits to the test to stop even more harm from befalling his family and his nation. Like many fantasy novels, reading one isn’t about finding out who wins but how Rhenn ultimately triumphs over his enemies. At least, that’s how the first two novels went.
Intrigue redraws the map for Rhenn with an abrupt promotion putting Rhenn in charge of the intelligence and security branch of the Imagers Collegium. His responsibilities extend to his entire nation of Solidar, but he’s gone from frontline battlemage to tower-bound general. The conflicts of the position with his personality, better suited for direct confrontations and outright battle, make up the bulk of the novel’s dramatic tension. This inner turmoil is set beneath and unfolding web of terrorism and sabotage, orchestrated by an enemy nation. Left on bad footing and home and abroad, Rhenn is forced to take unprecedented action to prevent a real war from breaking out.
Laced through the moments of crisis and action is the day to day activities that have become the hallmark of the Imager Portfolio. Modesitt has taken painstaking care to provide details for nearly every day that occurs between the start of the novel and its closing pages. At times, it feels like you’re reading a social calendar punctuated by assassination attempts, but the detail is a unique touch that provides realism in a fantasy setting. Critics of the books are fast to point out that the minutia of the day to day gets repetitive. I say that Rhenn is all the more human for having to put up with these everyday problems along with his not so everyday job.
At its core, Intrigue is a story about national conflict, not only of the countries themselves, but of their ideals. Solidar, Rehnn’s nation and Ferrum are in a war of ideas, economies, religions and, eventually, men. The political tensions between the two countries have been building since book one. What hasn’t been obvious is how vulnerable Solidar has become over those novels. The philosophical and social implications of war are considered at length by many of the protagonists. Solidar has relied on its status as superpower to avoid outright war with its neighbors, only it’s gone on long enough for it not to be true anymore. The parallels to our own political reality are obvious, if somewhat unpleasant.
Intrigue is a departure from the norm for both fantasy novels and the Imager Portfolio. It experiments with its own setting enough to be truly fascinating. While it may not be as action oriented as its prequels, it upholds the progress of the larger story, and the ideas behind it, better than anything else could have. It is an excellent book and a satisfying third entry in a fascinating series.