Is it fair to negatively review a book not on its own merits, but because it’s a carbon copy of half a dozen books just like it that the author already wrote? That’s the question that comes up with Imager’s Challenge by L. E. Modesitt, Jr., a book that reads well enough on its own merits, but is a virtual carbon copy of many of Modesitt’s Recluse books, right down to the beat cop assignment, which he had used in a recent Recluse novel only a few years ago.
Unlike Imager, Imager’s Challenge doesn’t crib from The Name of the Wind, but that just means Modesitt cribs from himself instead. And Imager’s Challenge has all the standard material. An earnest and incredibly talented young protagonist, forced by his magical power to join a special guild, and deal with obstinate superiors who manipulate him and refuse to tell him what he needs to know. A chunk of this goes all the way back to The Magic of Recluse, right down to the main character. There’s the usual conspiracy and a climax in which the main character figures out how to use his magic power to make things go boom.
Taken on its own, Imager’s Challenge is reasonably well written. The world building isn’t bad either, though pseud0-European 19th century settings are a dime a dozen now. And Modesitt just made the Recluse world, without Recluse and with a different magic system. Modesitt controls his urge to describe everything the character eats in great detail, but not by very much. There are thousands of words dedicated to describing meals. Much of the rest is dedicated to procedures in the job the main character has taken on and lectures about moral principles. Again standard fare for Modesitt.
But Modesitt has shown that he can actually take on different universes. The Ghost of the Revelator is set in a very different world. Imager though is a way to create a cheap new universe, without really going out and doing it.