Series review: Summoner by Taran Matharu

Series review: Summoner by Taran Matharu

Hey everyone! This is my first series review, so please bear with me as I figure out the best way to do this. I’m going to share my thoughts on each of the books in the Summoner series – including the prequel, The Outcast – while being as spoiler-free as I possibly can (but still hopefully giving you enough details to figure out what is going on in the story) and that sounds… Pretty impossible?! But I’ll do the best I can.

I was lucky enough to be accepted to read and review the entire Summoner series via NetGalley, so I’m ashamed that it took me until this year to knuckle down and finally read them. I’d already bought copies of all of the books though, because I just knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy them (and I was right, and I’m already looking forward to rereading these in the future).

The Novice – 4 stars

When The Novice begins, Fletcher is a blacksmith’s apprentice in Pelt who wants nothing more than to earn enough money on market day to buy a gorgeous cloak he’s been coveting. That’s until an elderly soldier sets out his wares on the floor opposite Fletcher, claiming to be selling the journal of a summoner.

The local bully, Didric Cavell, mocks the soldier, and after Fletcher defends him in a fight the soldier gifts him the summoner’s journal. In the back of that journal he finds a summoning scroll, and after sneaking down to the local graveyard he decides to give summoning a go. Screwing up his courage, Fletcher recites the words etched into the leather… And pop, Ignatius appears!

Unfortunately, Didric and his cronies follow Fletcher to the graveyard. He gets into a scuffle with them, and Ignatius instinctively protects Fletcher by shooting a fireball at Didric. Not knowing whether his nemesis is alive or dead, Fletcher has to flee his home.

To cut a long story short Fletcher quickly finds himself in a sticky situation and is saved by a summoner called Arcturus, who sweeps him off to Vocans Academy for his summoner training to begin.

Because we are introduced to the world of summoning at the same time as protagonist Fletcher, it is very easy to get to grips with the way that everything works. For that reason alone I’d say this is the perfect series for those who are just starting to read fantasy. I always found the genre quite intimidating when I was younger, but Taran Matharu strikes the perfect balance between explaining the mechanics of his world and not handling the reader with kid gloves. Things aren’t dumbed down, and so I did find that there were a few sections of summoner lore that I needed to reread a few times just to make sure I had my head wrapped around the concept fully, but this only occurred a couple of times towards the beginning of the first book. Once you’ve got the basics under control, the rest of the series is a breeze.

However, the other reason I’d highly recommend this to fantasy beginners is the wide range of sources Taran Matharu gathers his inspiration from. The demons themselves are reminiscent of Pokemon/Digimon – in fact the entire reason I didn’t finish this book pre-release was that I kept getting distracted playing Pokemon! – while Vocans draws comparisons to a certain castle in the Wizarding World. Then there are the different races of characters (dwarves, elves, orcs) which combine the lyrical aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings with the brutality of World of Warcraft. Add in Fletcher’s fashion sense, rivalling those of the cast of Assassin’s Creed, and you’ve got a mixture of elements which manage to appeal to even the most hesitant reader.

There is quite a large cast of characters in this book, but all of them become relevant to the plot at some point during the series and it’s done expertly. I did struggle to connect with some of the characters at the start because we are introduced to a lot of people very quickly – Fletcher is one of the common summoners, so we are introduced to all of the other common summoners when he arrives, but there are plenty of noble summoners who are introduced too – but as the characters grow throughout the later installments I found myself getting attached to almost all of them. That’s before we begin looking at the teachers at Vocans, of which there are a few!

Because The Novice introduces us to the world of Hominum it does have the slowest pace out of all of the books in the series. If you’ve read this book and have managed to resist carrying on with the series (to which I ask: how?! That CLIFFHANGER, man!) then I highly recommend at least trying The Inquisition, as the pace picks up dramatically.

The Inquisition – 4 stars

That brings us nicely to the second novel in the Summoner series.

As I’ve just mentioned, The Novice ends on a pretty dramatic cliffhanger, so it might surprise you to learn that The Inquisition is set one year after the events of the first book. Luckily we haven’t missed much with Fletcher, though, who has spent that year in jail after getting arrested at the end of book one.

The Inquisition is two stories in one. The first half, unsurprisingly, is the titular inquisition. Fletcher is on trial for the crime for which he was arrested, and – without giving any spoilers as to the outcome of the trial – he has to face an inquisition led by some familiar nobles who hate him very much.

The second half of the story shows Fletcher being sent into orc territory to attempt a rescue mission. Is this punishment for his crime? You’ll just have to read it to find out! But I will tell you it reunites him with a lot of the characters we meet in book one, and the dynamic between them is explosive.

As I mentioned previously, The Novice took us a little while to get through because the pacing is a lot slower – understandably, as it is setting up the entire Summoner universe – but the tension in the second half of The Inquisition made me desperate to read it in as few sittings as possible.

Although I also gave The Inquisition four stars, I believe it was probably closer to a 4.5. It still wasn’t my favourite book in the series (that’s The Battlemage!) but it’s far stronger than the first book. Whereas The Novice has a huge focus on Vocans and Fletcher’s first year learning the art of the Summoner, The Inquisition takes us further afield into the land of Hominum and completely absorbs you into the world and the lore Taran Matharu has crafted.

This book also ends on a huge cliffhanger, so I was grateful that I already had book three lined up and ready to go. This is a series which screams the words binge-read, and thankfully Matharu must have predicted that his novels would end up being read that way because the recaps are woven very subtly into the start of each installment. One of my biggest pet peeves is when you pick up the next book in a series and it clunkily regurgitates the events of the previous volume, so I’m glad that wasn’t an issue here.

Not only is there an extremely dramatic cliffhanger, but there is also one hell of a reveal. I was screeching from excitement because I did not see it coming at all. Another of Matharu’s skills is the art of crafty foreshadowing.

Now, moving on to my favourite book in the Summoner series…

The Battlemage – 5 stars

I do not have anything to criticise about this book. It is flawless, and is probably the strongest series ender I have ever encountered.

Picking up right where the last book left off, The Battlemage begins with Fletcher and the gang in mortal peril. They’ve travelled far from Hominum and are in a race against time to make it home safely, attempting to evade getting captured by a group of orcs who are hunting them (while also bumping into quite a few new – and highly dangerous – demons).

One of the best things about the Summoner series is the fact that we are constantly getting introduced to new demons. A couple of them only pop up for a scene or two, while other demons are seen over and over again, and it helps you to appreciate the size of the world Matharu has created. In each of my paperback copies there were brief sections at the back describing the demons and featuring little sketches of them, so if you don’t have the best imagination it’s a great way of getting to see them in all of their glory. Some of the demons looked very different to the way I had imagined them!

The Battlemage is another book which splits quite neatly into two parts. The race against time takes up the first half of the book, but the second half focuses intensely on the war between the people of Hominum and the orcs – a war which is bubbling in the background throughout the first two books, but boils over explosively towards the end of book three. I’m still trying my hardest not to give spoilers, so I won’t tell you which of our main characters makes it back to Hominum in one piece, but I will tell you that you’ll be trying hard not to shed tears by the end of The Battlemage. There are always casualties in war, and Taran Matharu isn’t afraid to kill off characters which have been loved since the first book in the trilogy.

There were a lot of things which I expected to happen in The Battlemage that didn’t happen, and I loved the fact that there were so many red herrings sprinkled throughout the series (some which went as far back as book one!). I’m not going to give anything away because I want you to be as surprised as I was, but just know that this is not a predictable series at all. Too many YA fantasy novels recycle the same tropes over and over again, but the ones which Matharu uses are given fresh spins and the majority of them are hinted towards and then dismissed which really keeps you on your toes.

Although Taran Matharu doesn’t seem to have plans to write any more Summoner books at the moment, the world is rich with potential and I’m hoping that he might change his mind at some point in the future. This is a series which I’m definitely going to be rereading, and I can’t wait to recommend them to my children when they’re old enough. If these books had been released when I was a little bit younger I think I would have been an avid fantasy reader much earlier in my life!

The Battlemage is the end of the Summoner trilogy, but I’m also going to share my thoughts on the prequel novel.

The Outcast – 4 stars

It might seem counter-intuitive to review the prequel novel at the end of this series review, but Taran Matharu himself recommends reading it after you read the main series.

I actually found myself wishing I had rebelled against his advice, because after the breakneck pacing maintained throughout The Battlemage, The Outcast feels as though it bumbles along a little bit. That’s not a bad thing, but I did find my attention drifting a little bit at points because I just didn’t connect with Arcturus’s story as well as I did with Fletcher’s.

This might be because I had already read Origins – a free eBook which was offered on Amazon prior to the publication of The Novice – and loved it, not realising that The Outcast is an extended version of Origins (the short story is the first third of the novel, so I ended up skipping the first 100 or so pages and just diving in where Origins finishes).

The Outcast tells the story of Arcturus, the first common Summoner who attends Vocans Academy. His story is quite similar to that of Fletcher’s so there are bits and pieces that feel quite repetitive, but I thought getting to know the nobles who also attended Vocans during Arcturus’s time there was invaluable. A lot of these nobles become relevant to Fletcher’s story, so getting to see their teenage years made it much easier to understand their motivations.

I couldn’t think of anything that would have overtly spoilt any of the reveals or twists in the main trilogy, but there are some things which would have made it a bit easier to see some of the reveals coming so I can understand why Taran Matharu recommends reading this one last. Personally, I’d recommend reading it first to see if you’re interested in the Summoner series, and if you are try and wait a few months before you pick up the main trilogy so that you can hopefully still experience the surprises as though you were reading them in the recommended order!

I’m not sure whether I would have been as interested it reading The Novice without reading Origins first, because I thought it was such a brilliant introduction to the world. It gave us a glimpse into Vocans and the way that the Summoner universe worked without giving too much away, and it made it far too tempting not to read the rest of the series.

Although I did get a bit restless at points, I still enjoyed The Outcast enough to give it four stars, and I loved the excuse to revisit the world of the Summoner so soon after finishing the trilogy.

All in all, the Summoner series gets a very strong four stars!

I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at a series review, and I’m crossing my fingers that I haven’t revealed too much about the events of the series. This is a really hard series to review without giving spoilers, because so much goes on.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you soon with another post,