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Literature / Imager Portfolio

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The Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt Jr. originally began as a trilogy of novels centered around the life of an everyman painter, Rhennthyl, who winds up discovering his talent for imaging (the series' name for magic) through the death of his mentor. After being somewhat forcibly inducted into the Collegium Imago (a school and institute for imagers), his life becomes more intertwined with the political plots, while fending off the hostile efforts of an enraged nobleman.


The series rapidly grew from the initial three novels, which are set when the protaganist's homeland, Solidar, has recently undergone an industrial revolution, bringing them to the age of steam. The next five novels (set chronologically before the original trilogy by almost seven or eight centuries), follow the founding of the continent-wide empire and of the Collegium Imago (College of Imagers) from the viewpoint of Quaeryt, a scholarly imager ex-sailor friend of the king. The ninth novel through twelfth books deal with the political intrigue of the empire as it changed from a monarchy to a oligarchic republic, during a time of troubles for the college.

The series, at present, consists of three separate arcs with four main characters.

  • Rhennythl (First Arc, chronologically last)
    • Imager (2009)
    • Imager's Challenge (2009)
    • Imager's Intrigue (2010)
  • Quaeryt (Second arc, chronologically first)
    • Scholar (2011)
    • Princeps (2012)
    • Imager’s Battalion (2013)
    • Antiagon Fire (2013)
    • Rex Regis (2014)
  • Alistar (third arc, roughly between first and third arcs chronologically)
    • Madness in Solidar (2015)
    • ''Treachery’s Tools (2016)
  • Charyn (third arc, rough after Alistar's stories end)
    • Assassin's Price (2017)
    • Endgames (2019)

This series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: The majority of the recurring female characters are this.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Rhennthyl's younger brother.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Each protaganist (thus far) has witnessed this.
  • Decadent Court: Both in Quaeryt's time, as well as Alistar's time, the noble court is this. It remains this even as late as Rhennthyl's age (though without a sole ruler).
  • Dirty Cop: Rhennthyl disposes of several of these.
  • Dull Surprise: the full extent of Rhennthyl's emotional range. Snipers are shooting at him? That's a little odd, at least at first, but nothing to show appreciable concern about. He just accidentally murdered two people he worked with for eight years? Hopefully nobody punishes him.
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  • Evil Is Petty: A large part of the second book is a noble house seeking to destroy Rhennthyl and his family because Rhenn had crippled one of their own in self-defense after the noble attacked him over an imagined misdeed that Rhenn hadn't anything to do with in the previous book.
  • Feuding Families: Rhennthyl both starts and ends a family feud.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: This applies to the imager novels, though not in the standard breakdown as much.
  • Great Detective: Rhennthyl is forced to become this on occasion.
  • Hero Insurance: Happens to Rhennthyl (though with just cause), as well as Alistar (again with just cause).
  • Imagination-Based Superpower: To a limited degree, imaging falls under this, but it has to be something practical, or else it can have disastrous results.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Rhennthyl is initially this, angry at having his chances at a normal life ripped away from him, but grows to accept it.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: Happens to at least one long-running assassin.
  • Lack of Empathy: Rhennthyl. Once he becomes a powerful assassin and regularly kills people, he is confused and hurt when people seem afraid of him.
  • Long-Running Book Series: Fulfills this with twelve books over ten years.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The rules for "magic" (referred to as "Imaging" in the series) are set, and almost completely unbreakable (characters do sometimes find work-arounds, but even those follow their own rules).
  • Magic Is Mental: Imaging is definitely this, with almost everything requiring the imager to understand the science behind what they're trying to do or create, or mentally spell it out exactly.
  • Marry for Love: Happens to both Rhennthyl and Alistar as well.
  • Military Coup: Rhennthyl and Alistar both face (and avert) the possibility of this.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Where to begin on this one? Happens to Rhennthyl at least twice.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Vaelora's take on Quaeryt.
  • New Tech Is Not Cheap: Happens to Rhennthyl, Quaeryt, and Charyn.
  • Nice Guy: The protagonists fill this role.
  • Nonviolent Initial Confrontation: Happens to every protagonist thus far.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Imagers, in the original trilogy, are expected to attempt to become this, to further their abilities.
  • Organization with Unlimited Funding: The Collegium Imago is this in the original trilogy, although in an explained fashion (they use magic to mass produce difficult to manufacture parts, and otherwise impossible to fashion goods). Inverted for the third protagonist (Alistar), who has to deal with an almost bankrupt college, where he begins the process leading to the Collegium Imago becoming an organization with unlimited funding.
  • Papa Wolf/Action Dad: Rhennthyl is woken up from a sound sleep, and realizes that the college is under attack by mortars, while he's in an anti-magic chamber so he can't accidentally kill everyone in his sleep, and proceeds to shield his house and family from the mortars, and then magic the shells back to the mortars to blow them up (promoting him to the highest level of imager possible because he could image something he never saw to a target he never saw).
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Quaeryt to the King's sister, Veloria, at the king's demand, with less than a day's warning. Neither had a say in the matter, though neither protested much. Includes an unexpected Standard Hero Reward, Wartime Wedding (Type 1 AND 3), AND Marry for Love.
  • Plucky Girl: Almost every romantic interest, or female sibling, thus far has followed this trope.
  • Precrime Arrest: Some Imager guards for the leaders of the government have the ability to detain (or outright kill, in less-than-obvious ways) anyone they suspect of being an assassin or enemy agent, before they even attempt to do anything.
  • Press-Ganged: Happens to Imagers into the Imago Collegium (to a degree). Happens in the nation-states the predate Solidar, though with varying degrees of compensation and treatment. A subplot in the second book is the lower classes of the city getting nervous about an upcoming sweep of Navy impressment teams expected to pass through in the near future (and does show up late in the book).
  • Prevent the War: Quaeryt and a military coup/civil war.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: Happens to Rhennthyl at the end of Imager and the beginning of it's sequel, Imager's Challenge.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: The focus Imagers often commit what amounts to acts of outright murder over things they think, but cannot prove, their targets have done.
  • Protectorate: Solidar is this for the Imagers by Alistar and Rhennthyl's arcs.
  • Public Execution: Happens at least twice that Rhennthyl is a witness to.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: A punishment in Rhennthyl's arc, for unruly imagers, to be sent to the most remote outpost of the collegium imago.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: At least one person attempts this. It doesn't end well.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: At least one monarch attempts this. It doesn't end well.
  • Secret Test of Character: Happens to Rhennthyl in the form of two older students attacking him on their own initiative, with instructors nearby to step in if it got too dangerous to any of them. Results in the death of one student, another student being permanently blinded (and no longer able to image), and a blood feud against Rhennthyl.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Could be said for Vaelora (Quaeryt's eventual wife).
  • Sleeping Single: Married Imagers are required to keep separate quarters from their spouses, because they can Image in their sleep, which could be dangerous for anyone else in the room. This only counts towards the literal act of sleeping, as some married Imagers do have children.
  • Spotting the Thread: Happens to at least two protagonists (Rhennthyl and Quaeryt).
  • Suspicious Spending: Happens to a murder victim in Rhennthyl's arc, leading him to uncover a larger plot.
  • Thought-Controlled Power: Again, Imaging is definitely this. But an imager also has to see their target unless they're top-tier.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Happens to Rhennthyl and Seloria, who are unexpectedly left a rather large sum of cash upon the death of an acquaintance. It's for around 10,000 golds, where Rhennthyl, even after promotions, only brings home 20 or so golds a month.
  • Unlikely Hero: From Rhennthyl's skills solely as a painter, to Quaeryt's skills as a sailor and scholar, to Alistar's skills as an ordinary imager, none seem particularly suited to political or military intrigue.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Rhennthyl isn't necessarily a villain, and he's not trying to create a utopia, but he does spend a lot of time studying how to assassinate people — and actually assassinating people — in service to a government and society that the text spends many pages justifying as the best of all practical worlds.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Seloria (for Rhennthyl), pulls a gun and defends Rhennthyl after he is almost fatally shot by an assassin, while on a date.
  • Walking the Earth: Quaeryt seems to do this while in the service of his king, walking, riding, and sailing over the majority of his home continent.
  • Warrior Prince: Lord Bhayar (aka "Rex Regis" in later life) is this, as apparently was his father, Lord Chayar. Bharyn appears to envision himself as this.
  • Weird Trade Union: Some guilds are excessively specialized. For example, instead of a guild for artists, there is a guild for every kind of painting an artist can create. Members of the Portraitist's guild are only permitted to sell portraits. If one of them were to paint a landscape, they could not legally sell it without facing repercussions from the Landscapists's guild.
  • Vestigial Empire: Solidar (and its several of its predecessor nation-states) are built on the bones of an older Imager empire that fell into becoming the newer states (though it's been lost to history).

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