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L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

  Tom Doherty Associates, LLC / Tor  
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I'll be honest. I bought this book for the cover. I can't help it. Donato Giancola is one of my heroes. If you don't know his art, take the time to go to his website. Totally amazing on every level. O.K. Now, on to the story

We begin in L'Excelsis, Solidar, a merchant society run by an elected Council. Rhennthyl, or Rhenn, as he is called, is a middle son in a large merchant family. He can't bring himself to apprentice at the family business, but luckily his older brother has that covered. So he takes his talent for drawing and apprentices to a portrait painter. Guilds run this society, and even the Artist Guild is divided strictly. Portrait painters are allowed to paint only portraits, Still life painters only still lifes, etc. You must apprentice for years before you are allowed to take your own commissions as a journeyman. Then after years of that, you can apply to become a master and open your own shop. This is the standard in all of the Guilds, and anyone of any standing must have a reputable, Guild approved position.

Things are going fine for Rhenn, until he realizes that many of the older masters won't vote for him to be advanced. Why? He's better than they are. Then, a freak accident at his master's workshop leaves Rhenn without a position, and none of the other masters will take him on. Rhenn has noticed that he can, on rare occasions, manipulate his paints on the canvas using his mind. Thinking this might be considered "Imaging", and not interested in starting another career path so late in life, he decides one night to cross the Bridge of Hope to Image Isle.

Not much is known about Imagers and what they do. The only things known is via rumors about what goes into training on Image Isle. It's considered a respectable occupation, but a bit strange and frightening. Thus Rhenn embarks into the world of magic, spies, social politics, and murder. Along the way he meets a lovely lady, Seloria, whom he must convince his family to accept since she is Pharsi, a frowned-upon, untrusted Gypsy-like people.

Rhenn's training, his romance, and his delving into the mysterious death of his late master make for a good plot. The writing is brisk, at times dry, but that does convey the serious attitude of the main character. This book sets up interesting political tensions between nations, social tensions within the main society, and personal tensions within Rhenn's family. The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but I like the characters enough that I want to know what happens to them in the next book. In general, good plot, good characters, good writing. Really fabulous book cover. (Sorry can't help it.)

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