Renegade Review: The Summoner Trilogy

Sean Etter, Editor-in-Chief

Back in my sophomore year at Shawnee, I decided to join the Renegade Report. One of the first articles I ever wrote was a five-in-one book review, in which I provided quick, non-spoiler reviews of five different books. Among those books was The Novice, the first book in Taran Matharu’s Summoner trilogy. Now, two years later, I am a senior in high school, the editor-in-chief of the Renegade Report, and the Summoner trilogy has come to a close with its final installment, The Battlemage. So, seeing as how my high school story will soon come to a close, it seems fitting that I look back and review this trilogy as a whole.

Before I begin my deep-dive into the series, it’s important to note that The Summoner is a series that wears its influences on its sleeve: it is commonly summarized as The Lord of the Rings meets Harry Potter meets Pokemon. I know, it sounds like the strangest mash-up in the history of mash-ups and that it shouldn’t work at all, yet the unlikely combination works exceedingly well without ever feeling like a rip-off of any of its inspirations. In fact, Taran Matharu has created a world that feels original, which is refreshing in a world where books are constantly compared to each other in terms of similarity, especially in the world of Young Adult fiction (I can easily think of a few book series that are discounted as Hunger Games wannabes, as well as a few books trying to cash in on the popularity of Game of Thrones). I can honestly say that there is nothing quite like the Summoner trilogy out there right now.

The fantasy series consists of three main entries: The Novice, The Inquisition, and The Battlemage. The story follows 16-year-old Fletcher Wolf, an orphaned child who was abandoned at the gates of the small village called Pelt in the kingdom of Hominum. A chance encounter with an old military veteran from the ongoing war against the Orcs reveals to Fletcher that he is a Summoner, a person with the rare ability to summon Demons from an alternate reality called the Ether. From there, Fletcher sets off to attend Vocans Academy, a school that trains young Summoners. He befriends a Dwarf named Othello and an Elf named Sylvia. The three unlikely friends must team up to battle against powerful forces that conspire to maintain a racist and elitist system within the kingdom, all while an army of Orcs threaten to invade the kingdom from its northern borders.

The book’s main focus is not on the impending war with the savage Orcs, but instead focuses in on the institutionalized racism that the humans impose on the Dwarfs and Elves, as well as the elitist system that places those born of nobility on a much higher pedestal while the poor are treated like dirt. While YA books series such as The Hunger Games have focused on elitism before, The Summoner is first YA book I have read in a while that tackles the issue of racism head-on. And it isn’t just racism that it covers, but discrimination against the cultural and religious differences of other groups of people, as well as fear-mongering and racial profiling. These themes are tackled unapologetically and play a key role within the series’ story, and make this book feel like an important and very relevant read given the state of countries such as the United States and Matharu’s native United Kingdom. Yet the book rarely if ever feels as though it is trying to preach “racism is bad.” The story conveys its message by creating original, well-developed, and sympathetic characters who face this horrific discrimination every day.

I don’t want to spoil a whole lot about these characters, as they are very well rounded characters who I feel you should discover for yourself, but I will say one thing: it says something about the author’s ability to craft great characters when the reader feels frustrated when the characters are frustrated, sad when the characters are sad, and triumphant when thing finally work out for them.

The best part of the Summoner are the Demons. Matharu created a plethora of unique and interesting Demons, each with their own role in the ecosystem of the Ether. The relationship between a Summoner and his or her Demon is also a central focus of the series: Summoners and Demons can feel each other’s emotions and hear each other’s thoughts, and it’s an awesome thing to see Fletcher explore this deep connection with his primary Demon sidekick, Ignatius, a small fire-breathing Demon known as a Salamander. Each of the main characters has a signature Demon as their partner, and I appreciate that Matharu has given each of the main characters’ demons personalities of their own. It makes the Demon characters feel less like creatures and more like people with their own desires, feelings, and fears.

Of course, the story isn’t perfect. There are a few flaws that hold the book back from being 5 stars. First, the villains. They are a mixed bag. On the one hand, I love that the villains of the story are not the orcs; yes, the orcs are evil, but the REAL villains are the humans in charge of Hominum, the ones that are using the war just for their own personal profit in the weapons industry. That being said, book three shifts away from this more interesting approach of making the humans the real villains to instead focus on making the leader of the orcs, known as Khan, the Pale Orc, the obvious bad guy. More on him in a moment. Back to the humans, my big gripe about them is that they are not really good villains. They have no complexity and zero redeeming factors. This makes the story all the more weaker in my mind. By making the human villains two dimensional, it removes any complexity from the story. Why are they evil? Because they’re greedy. Why are they racist? Because they just are. A hero is only as good as the villain, and if the villains are this weak and generic, what does that say about Fletcher and his friends?

Then there’s Khan. To be quite frank, I think Matharu made a mistake here. Not only does Khan shift the focus from the more interesting idea of the humans being the real villains, but the orcs, and Khan himself, are incredibly generic. They are the typical barbaric orcs who only wish to destroy everything in their path, a story that has been done so many times that I was genuinely disinterested in any plot involving them. Additionally, Khan is hopelessly underdeveloped and the most generic of all generic villains. He didn’t take on the role of main villain until book three despite appearing in both books one and two. Then, when he finally becomes the main focus, his relationship with Fletcher was incredibly lacking, such that I was never sold on their antagonism. Khan barely knows Fletcher, having only met him once, but for some reason he is hellbent on killing Fletcher himself. I wish I could say more about Khan, but there is so little there for this character that all I can really say about him is that he is just a generic fantasy villain.

My last gripe is the conclusion of the series. It just sort of ends. Granted, the way it ends it makes sense why Matharu doesn’t go on any further, but the ending just felt incredibly dissatisfying. I had hoped it would be bigger than or not end with a fairly generic fight between Fletcher and Khan, but unfortunately that was what we got.

With all that said, I do believe that The Summoner Trilogy is a worthwhile read, especially for fans of fantasy stories. It’s a mashup of other popular series that ends up being not only a surprisingly effective mixture, but something that feels refreshingly original in a current market where every fantasy story is trying to be the next Game of Thrones.


Rating: 4/5 Stars