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Yer A Summoner, Fletcher!

Taran Matharu’s debut novel, The Novice, is an entertaining fantasy, but its too-familiar themes keep it from feeling fresh.

Yer A Summoner, Fletcher!

BOOK REPORT for The Novice (Summoner #1) by Taran Matharu

Cover Story: Homework Avoidance
BFF Charm: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: n/a
Talky Talk: He Said (Deja Vu)
Bonus Factors: Coach Taylor Award x2, The Fellowship of the Wizards
Anti-Bonus Factors: Mean Girls (and Guys), Cliffhanger
Relationship Status: Call Me (in a Few Years)

Cover Story: Homework Avoidance

Nothing against this illustration—I mean, it’s light-years away from anything I’d ever be able to draw—but it looks a little like something you might find in a high school student’s notebook when he’d been playing Assassin’s Creed late at night rather than doing his chemistry homework.

The Deal:

When he was a baby, Fletcher was left at the gate of a small village completely bare. No blanket, no note, no nothing. Thankfully, the man who found him—the village blacksmith—had a kind heart and room in his home. Fletcher grew up under his adopted father’s tutelage, and quickly became an adept blacksmith’s apprentice. When a soldier stops in the village on his way to the front lines, however, Fletcher realizes that perhaps there’s more to life than his poor provincial town, particularly when he reads a book the soldier leaves behind—a book that once belonged to a battlemage (a soldier who can summon demons)—and summons his very own demon.

Fletcher travels to the Citadel, home of a training school for people like him. There, he meets friends, makes enemies, and learns about his much needed gift. But the past often doesn’t stay in the past.

BFF Charm: Eventually

Fletcher is only 15 when he discovers that he can summon demons and travels to demon summoning boarding school (also known as Vocans Academy). Although he’s a good kid who’s loyal to his friends, stands up for what he believes in and fights for what’s right, he’s still very much a kid. He’s hot-headed, a little flighty, and is prone to the occasional teenage tantrum. Give it a few years, and I can see Fletcher becoming the kind of guy I’d love to hang out with (or, you know, go out with).

Swoonworthy Scale: n/a

There is no swoon in this book. Not a drop. But that’s OK, because—in the (paraphrased) immortal words of Fred Savage—this isn’t a kissing book. It’s a book about personal growth, making friends, and fighting with demons. Could there be swoon in the characters’ futures? Of course. Currently, however, it’s time to focus efforts on other things.

Talky Talk: He Said (Deja Vu)

One highlight of The Novice is the characters. Taran Matharu has brought to life a whole slew of them, and, for the most part, they’re all interesting and different enough from each other that it’s not hard to tell who’s who. Unfortunately for the story, they’re awfully familiar to other more well-known characters, their dialogue can be stilted and formulaic, and, occasionally, the secondary characters felt a little flat. What The Novice really lacks is world building. The world in which Fletcher lives feels like many other fantasy worlds I’ve read about in the past; at the start of the book, I could have sworn that I was reading a novelization of a World of Warcraft-like game. (It got better, thankfully.) I know there are a lot of familiar creatures and tropes in fantasy novels, but it’s not too hard* to make them seem fresh.

*I’m assuming from reading experience. I am no fantasy writer.

Bonus Factor: Coach Taylor Award x2

In a book filled with characters of questionable morality (see Mean Girls (and Guys) below), it’s nice to read about adults who actually have the best interests in mind of the students they’re supposed to be educating and protecting. Two of Fletcher’s teachers at Vocans are quite deserving of this award.

Bonus Factor: The Fellowship of the Wizards

Unsurprisingly, for it is a fantasy novel, The Novice features more than just human characters. At Vocans, Fletcher makes friends with both a dwarf and an elf as well as a few humans. And I couldn’t help thinking of how the group felt a little like characters from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings had been mixed together and come out in this book. (The familiarity isn't so much the bonus factor as the idea of a mashup between the two is.)

Anti-Bonus Factor: Mean Girls (and Guys)

Fletcher deals with a lot of jerky people in The Novice. Jerky people from his home village. Jerky people in the city near Vocans. Jerky classmates at Vocans. Jerky teachers at Vocans. There’s very little middle ground in this book—either you’re a good guy, of which there are few, or you’re a total douche.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Cliffhanger

The closer I got to the end of The Novice, the more I realized that I wasn’t going to get much in the way of resolution. I knew this was the first book in a trilogy, but I had hopes that I would at least get left with a semblance of completeness. Turns out that light at the end of the tunnel was actually a train.

Casting Call:

Liam Aiken as Fletcher

Relationship Status: Call Me (in a Few Years)

I try not to let age difference sway my opinions, Book. But although our date was entertaining, there was something lacking. I think, in time and with some maturing (on your part), we could be great friends. But as it stands now, I think it’s best that we go our separate ways for a while.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Feiwel & Friends. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Novice is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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