The Novice by Taran Matharu (2015)

noviceSolid fantasy of the classic variety, heavy on both action and politics.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   355 (for ISBN 9781250067128)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy

Tone/Style: epic

Pace: moderate

Topics: race relations, women’s rights, class struggle, war, demons, magic, magic schools

Themes: inequality, social justice, perseverance, friendship

Summary: Fletcher is working as a blacksmith’s apprentice when he discovers he has the rare ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, Fletcher must travel with his demon, Ignatius, to an academy for adepts, where the gifted are taught the art of summoning.

Along with nobles and commoners, Fletcher endures grueling lessons that will prepare him to serve as a Battlemage in the Empire’s war against the savage Orcs. But sinister forces infect new friendships and rivalries grow. With no one but Ignatius by his side, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of the Empire is in his hands. . . .

The Novice by Taran Matharu is book one in the Summoner trilogy, a stunning epic fantasy that started on Wattpad, and garnered over six million views on the site. The paperback edition contains an interview with the author, a special sneak peek of the sequel, The Inquisition, and more. (Source)

Who will like this book?: This should be pretty cut-and-dry, since the book falls neatly into its genre. Give it to fans of epic fantasy. Social justice struggles that parallel those in the real world add an extra layer of interest for the thoughtful reader.

Who won’t like this book?: Aside from the obvious–readers who don’t like epic fantasy–I probably wouldn’t give this to someone as their first foray into the genre, since it’s a bit complex. There may be some fans of epic fantasy who aren’t interested in the politics, but I don’t think that will be a problem; there’s plenty of other stuff going on here, and they can skim.

Other comments: I’ve been having trouble finding new high-quality epic fantasy, so this has been a go-to for me lately. I booktalked it last summer and it flew off the shelves after that. When describing the plot of this book, I usually say the demons are like Pokemon. Not sure if it’s convincing anybody to read it, but it does make explaining easier.

Sequel(s): The Inquisition (2016), The Battlemage (2017)

Readalikes: This book is a descendant of classics like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. If readers like the idea of having a magical creature buddy, they might like The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. You could try a search of “YA epic fantasy”; you’ll find tons of options. (Just be aware that some may have mature content.) Recent-ish epic fantasies that come to mind for me are The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. If you’re looking for something a little younger or lighter, you might try The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan.

-Kylie Peters


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