A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Taran Matharu's The Outcast is a prequel in the Summoner series featuring a world of demons, humans, orcs, and dwarfs. As in the main series, there's much tension between the races and classes. The main character, Arcturus, is nearly murdered just for being a commoner and orphan who can summon demons. His ability makes the nobles feel threatened. That's not the only time Arcturus almost dies. There's plenty of dangerous action here. Arcturus and friends are pursued by orcs, soldiers, and rebels and attacked with crossbows, swords, and demons. Some gore is described: An orc's neck is ripped open, another is decapitated, a man is tortured. When Arcturus is forced to kill to save himself, he's distraught and understands the seriousness of what he's done. Expect consistent swearing in the dialogue, mostly "damned" and never anything worse than "bastards."
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What's the story?
In THE OUTCAST: SUMMONER TRILOGY PREQUEL, Arcturus is an orphan running away from his tavern job where he's regularly beaten. First, he stops by the stables to steal a horse for his journey. That's when he discovers a summoning scroll left in a saddle bag, reads it aloud, and accidentally summons a large canid demon that will be his for life. His transgression is found out immediately, and he's imprisoned and questioned. Commoners are not supposed to have the ability to summon and are not welcome within the ranks of the noble children who train at Vocans Academy. On the king's orders, he's sent to the school anyway. Arcturus sleeps in the "punishment room" at night and every day at school feels like he's being punished by the students who consider him an outcast. The night he decides to run away, two of the students have a nasty surprise for him: They summon a giant demon from the ether to kill him and intend to make it look like an accident.
Is it any good?
Fletcher's mentor Arcturus from the Summoner trilogy gets his origin story in this prequel, which focuses heavily on action. Arcturus and friends are on the run for the last two thirds of The Outcast, in fact. He mentions often how tired he is -- the reader will be, too. It's a little too much of a good thing, even for fantasy fans who crave high adventure stories. You almost lose count of how many times Arcturus nearly dies. Magical healing has its downsides in the world of effective storytelling, where one climactic action sequence is plenty.
That's not to say author Taran Matharu turns The Outcast into a one-note video game. He often points back to the deeper themes from the main trilogy on racial and class injustice. They continue to hold poignancy here. And his main character, Arcturus, may be forced into some bloody moments, but he never thinks it's OK to kill. More on Arcturus' inner transition from commoner to brave summoner would have been welcome.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the racial tension in The Outcast. How does the dwarf Ulfr view humans? Why? Does his opinion ever change?
How have the nobles changed during their escape? What have they learned about the orcs? The dwarfs? The workings of their kingdom?
For readers of the Summoner trilogy, did Arcturus' story measure up? What other characters do you want to know more about?
- Author: Taran Matharu
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, High School, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
- Publication date: May 1, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 384
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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