The prolific Modesitt (Mage-Guard of Hamor, 2008, etc.) kicks off a new fantasy series that boasts an early modern setting—think Victorian times without the pollution.
Rhennthyl, the son of a leading wool merchant in L'Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, had no interest in the wool trade and apprenticed himself to portraiture Master Caliostrus. Now a skilled journeyman, young Rhenn involuntarily uses magic (“imaging”) to complete exceptionally difficult assignments. But while he considers attempting to become a master artisan, the studio erupts in flames, killing Caliostrus and his obnoxious son—a catastrophe that Rhenn worries he might have caused through his unconscious imaging abilities. No other studio will take him on, so he has no choice but to apply to the Collegium on Imagisle in hopes of becoming an imager. Accepted by the secretive Master Dichartyn, Rhenn learns that imagers must live apart from the rest of society—even sleeping alone in lead-lined rooms because they can accidentally image even while asleep. Dichartyn hits Rhenn with a crash course in politics, philosophy and physical training. Rhenn learns how to create shields against both magic and physical objects, and soon his abilities match those of imagers who've been on Imagisle for years. As the pace picks up, Rhenn meets beautiful and graceful Seliora, who's gifted with second sight, and deals—brutally—with two young imager bullies. Finally, while dodging assassins' bullets, not always successfully, he discovers what Dichartyn really intends for him.
Slow to start and drearily didactic in places, but Modesitt's capacity to wring new surprises from stock ideas remains undiminished.