The Summoner is the first book in the Chronicles of the Necromancer series. It tells the story of Prince Martris Drayke, whose world is ‘thrown into sudden chaos’ when his older brother, with the aid of an evil sorcerer, murders his family and seizes the throne.
Martris, or Tris, as he prefers to be called, is forced to flee for his life. Luckily, he’s the grandson of the last great Summoner (think necromancer) in his world, and has inherited that Summoner’s powers. He also has a small but loyal band of companions to help out.
And this is where things start to go downhill. There’s the tough, reluctant loner guy with a mysterious and tragic background, who initially is all tough and reluctant to help out (because of his mysterious and tragic background), but then is won over by the casual camaraderie of the group and the potential love of a good woman (aah, isn’t that sweet). There’s the bard, who’s a bit of a happy go lucky fellow, good with women and also handy in a fight. Then there’s two soldiers, one old and one young, who despite being good friends with Tris come across as a bit bland and generic. Towards the last part of the book I’d stopped caring which of them was which. There’s a healer, who plays the good woman role for the tough reluctant loner guy. At the start the two are constantly fighting with each other, but there’s a certain frisson of sexual tension each time they clash, so you just know they’re gonna hook up soon. Later on there’s also the obligatory love interest for the main hero, a fiery warrior princess who’s actually betrothed to Tris’ evil brother (ah, warrior princesses, when will they learn?).
Whilst initially fleeing towards a neighbouring kingdom, the intervention of the Lady (the goddess of that world) sends them towards a great library, once thought destroyed in some cataclysmic Mage War. There Tris will learn to master his powers, Kiara (the warrior princess) will find out how to help her father and her kingdom, and the rest of the merry band learn various things. But time is short – because if they don’t get their act together by the Hawthorn Moon then the evil sorcerer, (who’s actually a vampire), will unleash a terrible evil known as the Obsidian King upon the world.
By the way, having a bad guy who plots from behind the throne – that’s kinda annoying. Having a bad guy who plots and also happens to be a mage – that’s pretty evil.
But having a bad guy who plots, happens to be a mage, and is also a vampire – now that’s just plain awesome.
Now lets recap – young prince with destiny – check, the trusty band of companions – check, fiery love interest – check, evil wizard with plan to unleash evil – check. I know what you’re thinking; hey senseichow, this is just bog standard fantasy, lifted straight out of the 1980s. Am I right?
Well, great job you! You’re absolutely right. It is just bog standard fantasy, lifted straight out of the 1980s.
The hero being able to talk to, and summon, the dead, that’s something new (kind of). Pretty much everything else though, is old. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself – both Brian Ruckley and Joe Abercrombie have written books recently that have taken fantasy stereotypes and turned them on their head by the strength of their writing, but unfortunately you won’t find much of that strength here. The dialogue feels stilted and awkward; near the end one character actually says, “on the morrow, we will talk,” and the combat scenes lack any real sense of danger – in one particularly absurd fight against slavers in the forest, the characters were swapping witty quips whilst being gradually outnumbered and outfought.
To make matters worse, near the beginning of the book we see the Lady intervening on Tris’ behalf to heal a potentially fatal wound. She then tells him that for the duration of the crisis, she would make him effectively unkillable (!) thus casually neutering the threat from any of Tris’ subsequent fight scenes. Its a far cry from the likes of A Song Of Ice And Fire, where half the time you’re not even sure if a character is going to live to the end of the sentence, let alone the entire novel.
The deus ex machina pops up several more times through the book – the Lady sends her vampire servants to help Tris when he’s in trouble, sends her sorcerers to teach him once he reaches the Library, and even sends a mage to help out Kiara (remember, the fiery warrior princess, stay with me now) when she runs into a spot of bother. You have to wonder, for a goddess who likes to play such an active part in things, why she doesn’t just strike down the evil sorcerer herself.
Even the worldbuilding consists of little more than your standard fantasy kingdoms, with generic cities and taverns a plenty.
So in summary – bland, formulaic fantasy that earns a thumbs down from me.
(For further information on Gail Z. Martin you can check out the official website here, and it also has a link to the first chapter of The Summoner online.)