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Modesitt (The Lord Protector's Daughter) launches a trilogy set in a brand new world with this straightforward, exposition-heavy story. Apprentice portraitist Rhennthyl finds out the hard way that he has the magical ability called Imaging: an explosion kills his master right after Rhenn wishes for just such an event. Rhenn's ability, which allows him to form objects from thin air and slay with a glance, appears to be quite strong, and he begins training as a covert operative. Just when he starts to relax into his new career, an unknown assassin tries to kill him. This uncomplicated narrative feels like a prequel, with plenty of setup but not much action. Readers will look to future installments for the derring-do promised by Rhenn's martial studies and frequent mentions of stormy international politics. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.