I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Novice by Taran Matharu
Series: Summoner #1
Published by Feiwel & Friends on May 5th, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult
When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.
As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.
When I first heard about The Novice, with its stunning cover and Wattpad origins, I immediately had high hopes. “This could potentially be the next Throne of Glass series,” my brain screamed, excitedly. After reading it, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say all that, but The Novice is entertaining for sure, and a series I can’t wait to continue.
The world of The Novice is like a creative blend of Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and Pokemon. That might SOUND odd, but I swear it makes perfect sense if you read the book. Like LOTR, the races of men, elves, dwarves, and orcs are all present in The Novice. There are plenty of racial tensions as well, causing plenty of wars throughout the thousands of years prior to the book. However, now the races have grudgingly banded together to fight the orcs – who are primarily just interested in murder and chaos. The political background of this war and these alliances are incredibly interesting, and definitely made me feel like I was reading a more YA version of LOTR. Yet despite the parallels, The Novice still feels adequately original.
The Harry Potter part of the story comes in the form of a boarding school. The main character, Fletcher, an orphaned Blacksmith’s apprentice, discovers he has an aptitude for summoning – a very rare gift usually only found in the noble families. After a twisty beginning to the story, he ends up at the school where summoners are trained to later fight in the war and lead the platoons. There he takes classes in combat, magic, and summoning and prepares for a tournament at the end of the year which would determine his rank and commission within the army. At this school, he makes friends with an elf and a dwarf and enemies with the nobles who look down on commoners with the summoning gift. If you like boarding school stories with magic, you’ll probably love this.
The Pokemon part of the story comes into play in the summoning gift. Summoners can capture and bond with demons from the ether, which have various forms, abilities, and levels of strength. Fletcher discovers his gift of summoning when he reads a scroll and accidentally summons Ignatius. Ignatius is a Salamander demon who breathes fire, and I swear he’s the absolute cutest thing and made reading this book infinitely more fun. He’s like Pascal from Tangled – completely adorable, quirky, and achingly loyal to Fletcher. A summoner can feel and influence the emotions and actions of their demons, so I just have VERY STRONG FEELINGS about this combo. Anyway, demons are an incredibly important asset to the army, as the orcs also have the ability to summon and their demons and magic are usually much stronger than those of the Hominum Empire. The nobles of the boarding school have been gifted much stronger demons by their summoner parents, just one of the many perks of their rank and privilege. So, particularly in the tournament, demon vs demon battles are an action-packed and entertaining part of the story.
I think you can probably tell by now that I was incredibly engrossed by this story and all of its cool elements. These are supported by Matharu’s excellent writing, and the refreshing male POV. (I mean, I’m all for my awesome female MCs, but we just don’t see a lot of boys in YA anymore, so I enjoyed this a lot.) There’s no real romance, though I have a HINT of a ship that might happen, which reminded me of the early days of Harry Potter – when there were hints and all of us fans lovingly filled in the gaps with fanfiction, daydreaming, and endlessly analyzing subtext. And though the characters didn’t completely pop off the page, I very much enjoyed their interactions, particularly between Fletcher, Othello, and Sylva.
The only real hesitance that I have is that I was slightly let down by the plot in the end. I didn’t know in advance that this would be a boarding school novel (and it took quite some pages before that part of the story started). The pacing at that point became really disjointed – at random points MONTHS had passed, and I didn’t really get what was happening or what it was building to at the end. I mean, at least in Harry Potter, there was a clear bad guy that the main character had personal ties to, so the climax at the end of each book didn’t feel random, and usually there had been clues and events throughout the school year leading to that point. I don’t get where the plot of this series is going.
Fletcher is not a “chosen one” like Harry, which I like because I tire of that trend in YA. He’s just a random anomaly. He ends up having the summoner gift, so he ends up going to the academy, where he ends up fighting in the tournament… but I don’t understand his end goal, I suppose. He doesn’t seem to be particularly passionate to fight in the war, it’s not that he has loved ones to fight for, and there’s not really a mystery that he’s trying to uncover. Now, don’t get me wrong – I was still absolutely entertained by this book, and I’m stoked for the rest of the series (particularly because after this one year, the boarding school part is over). But it did have moments where it felt a bit aimless, and I might not be critical about that fact if the comparisons to Harry Potter and LOTR weren’t already so firmly in my mind.