YA Weekend: The Novice by Taran Matharu

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The NoviceThe Novice by Taran Matharu

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Summoner

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (May 5, 2015)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I don’t know what it is, but something about this book totally appealed to me. One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now, but then I tried to remember the last time I read a Young Adult novel set in a world like this, and it actually made me realized just how refreshingly different it is from the sort of YA I’ve been reading lately. It’s free of a lot of the usual tropes, anyway. Plus, something about the storytelling just gives off this down-to-earth and easygoing vibe. It feels like the author wrote this book from his heart, to have fun, not to hit up all the items on some imaginary checklist of what makes a YA novel successful. In fact, I read somewhere that The Novice began life as a personal NaNoWriMo project, and that doesn’t surprise me at all.

The story follows Fletcher, an orphan raised by a village blacksmith after he was found as a baby abandoned in the snow. One day, on the cusp of Fletcher’s sixteenth birthday, a chance encounter with a veteran soldier at the market left him in possession of an old scroll. And like all curious teenage boys, Fletcher just couldn’t resist reading it, and in doing so he unleashes a demon from the Ether. But it’s not as ominous as it sounds! The demon – a cute little imp-like creature that shoots fire – is a Salamander that quickly bonds to Fletcher and becomes his loyal companion.

However, Fletcher’s summoning of the demon does reveal him to be a mage. And with the war going on with the orcs, the army needs all the summoners they can get their hands on, noble-born or commoner; elf, dwarf or human. On the run for a crime he didn’t commit, that’s how Fletcher ends up at the Adept Military Academy, a school that teaches young summoners and prepares them to become full-fledged battlemages before sending them to the frontlines. Fletcher learns to control his demon familiar – whom he names Ignatius – alongside the new friends he meets, but also has to contend with the snotty noble children who try to undermine him at every turn. As the war effort becomes increasingly more desperate, the Academy holds a competition to weed out the brightest and the best for leadership positions, and even first-years like Fletcher are included. Fletcher wants to win, and not just because he wants to teach the nobles a lesson. There are shady dealings afoot; political plots and conspiracies abound, and Fletcher knows he can make a difference for the better, if only he can overcome the challenges of the trials and best his opponents to win a position of command.

A quick look at Taran Matharu’s author page tells us that his passion for reading began at a very young age, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he was a fan of Harry Potter as a child. If that’s the case, the influence is pretty strong. I also see shades of influence from other literary sources, like Lord of the Rings, and the use of mana to summon demon companions of varying species and power levels also reminds me of role-playing video games and even Pokemon. Taken by themselves, the ideas are familiar and derived from what we’ve seen before, but taken as a whole, they actually come together here to form something quite new and interesting, not to mention also a whole lot of fun.

Like I said, Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about. For that, I can overlook some of the novel’s weaknesses, such as the simplistic writing style and on several occasions where it felt somewhat skewed towards younger audiences like Middle Grade. The writing is perhaps my only big issue I had with this novel, which I felt could use a fair bit more polishing, but this is not an area I’m overly concerned with when I read YA.

Plus, there’s a lot to like too. I found the different kinds of demons and their little quirks charming, plus the Demonology treatise found at the end of the book was a nice touch. I liked reading about the magic school environment and the interactions Fletcher has with his fellow students, especially his relationship with the dwarf Othello and the elf Sylva. The tournament at the end definitely made for an entertaining closer as well, though I also can’t wait to finally step out of the academy setting into big wide world. Thus far we’ve not seen much of the ongoing war with the orcs, and I hope we’ll get a chance to get out to the front. Well, after the cliffhanger at the end of this book gets resolved, of course. Just in case you can’t tell, yes, I’m looking forward to the next book.


20 Comments on “YA Weekend: The Novice by Taran Matharu”

    • I actually didn’t get a chance to get a good look at the cover – now that you mention it, the posture IS different. And I have to say, I love the art style 🙂


  1. This sounds delightful! All the tropes that are mentioned are some of my favorites and of course it is great when the author combines them to produce something unique and original.


  2. I cant really remember the last time I read a book with elves and orcs to be honest. City Stained Red kinda, but not really.

    And who is that publisher? Imprint of someone I know? Never heard of it.


  3. Oh you are making me like the sound of this one even more now! Despite the slightly simplistic writing, the world, host of cool characters and the influences from HP and LotR sold it for me. And of course, I’m ALWAYS game for books with magical schools 😀 Thanks for the great review Mogsy and I’m happy that you enjoyed this one^^

    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews


  4. YAY! I’ve had my eye on this one for a while, but I was a bit worried that it might be a disappointment. Personally, I really like SFF that doesn’t take itself too seriously; sometimes I just need something fun. And who doesn’t love a good “magic school” set up? Cute demons don’t hurt either.


  5. “One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now” <—–Pfft. Never.

    Also I find it impressive that the author was able to combine past influences into something new and interesting, rather than a hodge podge of blah. I've had my eye on this one for awhile, and I'm thinking I'll move it up the list 😉


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