A new fantasy series by an author as established and prolific as Modesitt is always worth checking out - and this one is certainly worth the effort.
This is an intriguing, layered world that closely resembles the Renaissance period in its technology and cut-throat attitude to other states and religions. Politically, Solidar is powerful but isolated by its religious belief that Naming a deity is well on the way to blasphemy - but the dealbreaker is Solidar's tolerance of imagers. As Rhenn learns more during his highly specialised training, he discovers that Solidar's supremacy comes at a very high price...
Modesitt's strength is establishing textured, believable worlds where his characters can discuss and critique their experiences of different forms of governance. This is grown up fantasy - where notions of tolerance versus enlightened dictatorship, colliding religious views, and the consequences of power and its abuse can all be examined.
However this book isn't a philosophical musing on politics and religion - it's a fantasy adventure about a powerful magic-user who is coming to terms with what he is capable of doing. And once more, Modesitt gives us a demonstration of how to construct a magical system. Imagers don't live in the city of L'Excelsis - it's too dangerous. They cannot even have a normal married life, because when they fall asleep, they cannot control their dreams... I love the world. I love the way that Modesitt builds the layers and complexity throughout the book without compromising the pace and narrative tension.
Any niggles? Well, we access the whole book in Rhenn's first person viewpoint, and while he is a well defined character, I would have preferred to have seen a bit more angst when he finally walks away from the ashes of his career as an artist. His initial time at the Collegium seemed a bit too smooth. I also feel that he deals with some of the events with great coolness and resourcefulness - and I'd like to see him flounder, showing more vulnerability and horror at the situations with which he is having to cope. Having said that, set against the overall quality of this first book in the series, it isn't a major flaw - and I'm sure Modesitt has plenty of nasty experiences in store for Rhenn in future. One thing I do know - I'll be hunting down the next book in the series to find out exactly what happened, next. If you enjoy intelligent, well written high fantasy with interesting things to say about the human condition in amongst all the mayhem and magic, then I'd advise you to look out a copy of Imager - you're in for a treat.