A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Novice is the first book in the Summoner series featuring a world of demons, humans, orcs, elves, and dwarves. There's much tension between the races here -- the main character, Fletcher, seems to be the only one helping bridge the divide -- and there's constant talk of preparation for war against the orcs. The main characters don't make it to the front lines just yet but still kill off a few bad guys in smaller skirmishes involving swords, guns, arrows, and javelins. Describing someone as being stabbed through the skull and gushing blood is about as graphic as it gets. Fletcher's demon claws and sets fire to enemies. Main characters suffer police brutality, broken bones, a whipping, and a near beheading. Fletcher, 15, drinks heavily in a bar and pays for it by throwing up the next day. Strong language sticks to many uses of "damn," and Fletcher, an orphan, is called a bastard to his face.
What's the story?
Working in the market selling weapons with his adoptive father one day, 15-year-old Fletcher is intrigued by a seller across the way -- a veteran of the orc wars come to town selling different kinds of old soldier equipment. He spins a yarn for each object in front of a crowd and leaves a book for last, one he claims was written by a battlemage with instructions for summoning a demon. Only nobility and a few commoners can even summon demons, so Fletcher is not tempted to buy. But after befriending the veteran over drinks, the book ends up in his hands anyway. Fletcher takes the book to the graveyard, not realizing he's been followed, just to try the summoning spell. After a demon appears, so does trouble. A boy named Didric and his hired goons go after Fletcher, threatening his life, and Fletcher finds out just how tough his demon is. Fletcher runs away from an unconscious, burned, and possibly dead Didric and skips town, taking his demon with him. In the big city of Corcillum more trouble finds him, but so does a man named Arcturus, one of the teachers at Vocans Academy, a school that trains those who can summon demons to be battlemages. With that, Fletcher enters the academy and discovers a world far outside his small town -- one where dwarves, elves, and humans -- old enemies -- need to work and train together, or the growing power of the orcs will defeat them all.
Is it any good?
If you like Cassandra Clare's demons without the relationship drama, plus Tolkien's world of orcs, dwarves, and elves, this series may be your new favorite. Especially if you wish Hogwarts were less herbology and charms and more dueling and battle strategy, and instead of an owl that delivers your mail, your animal would claw out eyes and set fire to people.
THE NOVICE warms readers up to this battle-ready Summoner series quite well, though once the hero Fletcher finds his way into Vocans Academy and the lessons begin, readers will get a bit lost in the details. They're all interesting, but it's easy to lose sight of the main story when you're caught up in power numbers for demons like it's a video game. Both the budding relationships between Fletcher and his elf and dwarf allies, and even his mentor Arcturus, could have used more steady emphasis as well. The relationships don't build evenly, and the tension leading up to the final test isn't there -- you turn the page and suddenly it's test day. Now that this cool, complex world is established, here's hoping promising novice author Taran Matharu can work more diligently on clear storytelling. All the pieces are here for a great series.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the difference between magical Hogwarts and Vocans Academy, where students are trained solely to fight against orcs. Which subjects do you think you would excel at in each? Which would you rather attend? Would you rather have a demon or an owl?
The dwarf Othello describes the brutality he's suffered at the hands of the human police and how ostracized the dwarfs are in society. Do you think the author had current events in mind while writing about these dwarves? Or do you think fantasy is just that?
Will you keep reading the series? What do you think will happen to Fletcher next?
- Author: Taran Matharu
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
- Publication date: May 5, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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