Imagine an author standing over a cauldron, contemplating a recipe for their novel’s plot. Said author throws in a dash of Harry Potter, a sprinkle of His Dark Materials, and a helping of… Pokemon? Yep, it’s “gotta catch ’em all” demon edition. If you consider the concoction brewing in that cauldron then you’ll begin to have an idea of what Taran Matharu’s The Novice contains.
Matharu might well have plucked certain elements from other works, but I’m certainly not accusing him of being completely unoriginal. Like most other books in the fantasy genre, there are certain tropes that are impossible to get away from: demons that are unlike traditional demons, an animal friend, and a training school to learn magic… But it is the way Matharu combines the elements that makes for an original, engaging story that manages to stay quite fun, despite some dark (but not too dark, this is for younger teens) subject matter.
Fletcher is a blacksmith’s apprentice who accidentally discovers he has the ability to summon demons. When he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he runs away to Vocans Academy to be trained. Together with his demon Ignatius, he must navigate his lessons and the politics of the kingdom to gain a commission in the King’s army as a battlemage.
Fletcher’s small town background means that he isn’t as used to the severe class system and prejudices he is quickly introduced to at the Academy. He’s quick to stand up for Dwarf and Elven rights, even before he makes friends with them. As a result Fletcher feels a little bit like someone out of his time – he’s very advanced in his beliefs and thinking. It doesn’t feel completely authentic, but Fletcher has a likeable quality to him, so as a reader you quickly forgive it.
I’d like to see the relationship between Fletcher and his demon Ignatius grow more. The don’t quite have the
Ash/Pikachu, Lyra/Pan, Hiccup/Toothless bond, but it is early days yet – The Novice is only Book 1. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and with enough intriguing plot threads unravelling to make me want more.
If you are after an engaging new fantasy series suitable for younger teens (13-15), then I suggest picking up a copy of Summoner: The Novice to see what it has to offer.