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The Outcast: Summoner Trilogy Prequel

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Outcast: Summoner Trilogy Prequel Book Poster Image
Action-packed origin story for Fletcher's mentor Arcturus.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Orcs, dwarves, humans, and their demons interact in this fantasy world. Straightforward learning involves comparing the lore about each species in other books, such as Lord of the Rings, with the world created here. For some outside-the-box thinking, The Novice: Summoner, Book 1 explores racial tension through the ages-old conflict among these groups. How does it compare to the racial tension in our humans-only world?

Positive Messages

Like the main trilogy, class struggles and racial tension are shown in their complexity, with hope about how friendship and trust can help bridge the divide. Hope comes from the young, who are less prejudiced, less power-hungry, and therefore more bent on changing the world for the better.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Arcturus is nearly killed for who he is: an orphan and a commoner. He could join a rebellion out of revenge, but is not driven by anger. He shows his bravery often and values life. When he's forced to kill, he feels much regret, no matter who it is.

Violence

Main character nearly killed a few times, from a crossbow bolt to the chest and a few rampaging demons. He suffers heavy blood loss, broken ribs -- all other injuries are healed with magic. Some gory imagery: an orc beheaded, another orc's neck ripped open by a demon, a crossbow bolt through an orc's eye, a sword through the foot of a demon, screams heard as man is tortured -- later we see that his fingernails have been ripped out. Skirmishes with crossbows, swords, and demons with many shown dead. Kidnapping. Mention of beating and many dead in previous wars. Hate speech against dwarfs and commoners.

Sex

Many mentions of noblemen sleeping around and siring children they don't want.

Language

"Damned" often in dialogue with some "hell," "hellfire," "arse," "balls," and "bastards."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Soldiers smoke a few times. Mention of drunken patrons of a tavern.

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?

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