Book Review: The Novice by Taran Matharu

noviceTitle: The Novice

Author: Taran Matharu

Series: The Summoner #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help. As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.

The Review:

Two things got me through this book: 1. The sense of obligation I felt towards the publisher and NetGalley for being kind enough to approve me for this title and 2. All of the “keep reading” reviews on Goodreads who claimed the first part of the book is worth trudging through because of the school for demon summoners!! Those were frankly about the only two things that would have kept me reading under any other circumstances. I did not enjoy The Novice nearly as much as I thought I was going to and honestly wish I hadn’t spent so much time on it.

It had all of the elements that, on paper (no pun intended), should add up to a killer novel, but I think it was published before it was developed to a high level. I know firsthand the frustration of working on a story for years, trying to get it perfect, but at some point you really do need to just throw in the towel and work on something else until your writing ability matches your taste level (Ira Glass – On Being Creative, YouTube). The Novice read very much like a first book (my apologies to the author if it wasn’t), so I can’t help but wonder how much better it could have been with more experience. Maybe I’m just projecting my own writing experience onto this product, but I thought it needed a lot more work before it was ready to be published.

I hinted at above that I was interested in the school, and would like to add that I thought the concept for the demons was the coolest idea out of the whole thing. Each kid gets a demon to call their own and proceeds to learn how to channel magic through it at the school. The demons themselves came in all shapes and sizes and I found particular pleasure in finding out what kind each of the students ended up with. For me, these were all the selling points of the novel, the problem is, we don’t see a glimpse of these great ideas until almost a third of the way through the book (that’s about 100 pages, folks). If I were in this author’s critique group, I would have strongly suggested reworking the story to get to the school a LOT sooner. The interesting thing is, the basics of the story are quite similar to those of what I’ve been working on for my own novel (just replace demons with dragons), so I’ve spent a lot of brainpower on exactly the issue of getting the character to the school quickly. I’m not saying my way is better, because obviously I don’t have a book published yet, but it was interesting for me to see “what could’ve been” had I not decided to restructure (tossing out about 90 pages) to get my character to the school immediately. Food for thought…

Anyway, while I appreciated the concept behind the story and a few ideas within it, I will not be recommending this one anytime soon. It felt like it needed a pacing makeover, more depth of character, and more focus on the elements that make it special (e.g. the school and the demons). I feel like I had to work to get to the “exciting” parts and when I finally did the payoff wasn’t enough to justify the effort.

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by Niki Hawkes

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