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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

"The Summoner" by Gail Z. Martin


For Solaris Books, which debuted in February 2007, the novel that represented the ‘fantasy’ side of their launch was “The Summoner” Book One of the Chronicles of the Necromancer by newcomer Gail Z. Martin.

As a launch title, you would expect “The Summoner” to be somewhat special, but truthfully Gail Z. Martin’s debut doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Basically, “The Summoner” is a formulaic, by-the-numbers sword and sorcery adventure that utilizes a number of familiar fantasy tropes, including a coup staged by a wicked prince and his sorcerer advisor, haunted inns/wells/forests, traveling caravans, bandits, oracles, slavers, magical amulets & swords, secret mystical cabals and a quest to prevent an ancient evil from being resurrected in the world. About the only aspects of the book that you could call distinctive are the presence of vampires and the ability to summon/dispel spirits, but even these ideas are not unique. And if you’re thinking that with necromancers, vampires and other horror-influenced elements that “The Summoner” must be of a darker variety then think again since the tone of the book is very PG-13, with a noted lack of graphic violence, deaths of major characters and a surprisingly uplifting ending despite the perilous circumstances. As far as the actual story, no need for a scorecard here since everything that happens in “The Summoner” is readily familiar and easy to predict from the many dire situations that the heroes find themselves in to their inevitable triumphs and the obvious budding romances between certain characters.

Speaking of which, talk about clich├ęs – you’ve got the protagonist Martris “Tris” Drayke, a Prince of Margolan who is the exact opposite of his cruel half-brother Jared. Tris also happens to be the mage-heir of a powerful sorceress and must learn to harness his abilities in order to defeat his enemies, which include Jared Drayke and his advisor, the vayash moru sorcerer Foor Arontala. Along the way, Tris is joined on his journeys by friends Ban Soterius, a captain of the guards, and master bard Carroway, while the experienced soldier Harrtuck, a healer, an orphan, the mercenary Jonmarc Vahanian and a princess who also happens to possess her own set of mystical powers, join the fray. Of all of these characters, Tris is the most developed, since he also gets the most face time, with Vahanian, Princess Kiara and even Jared providing the occasional narrative. Honestly though, we’re not talking comprehensive characterization here, just the bare bones. In other words, the good guys are charming, full of righteousness & heroism, with only rudimentary backstory and the occasional flaw, while the bad guys are evil through & through. In short, you’ve seen all these characters before, just with different names and in different settings.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of originality, the predictable story, and the one-note characters, I couldn’t help but like “The Summoner”. A lot of that has to do with the way the novel is written. Sure, Gail Z. Martin isn’t flashy or elegant with her prose…in fact the writing is quite straightforward with only minimalist descriptions, focused more on advancing the story than providing detailed analyses of characters, locations and themes. Because of this uncomplicated approach, “The Summoner” is consistently composed, easy to get into and reads very quickly. Plus, because of the exuberant manner in which the story is told – it’s obvious that Gail Z. Martin is a huge fantasy fan – “The Summoner” is hard not to like despite its faults. So, if you don’t mind fantasy that revisits familiar territory, but offers plenty of sword & sorcery action, and is of the more family-friendly variety, then “The Summoner” is definitely worth picking up with the adventures continuing in Book Two of the Chronicles of the Necromancer, “The Blood King” due out January 2008.

3 comments:

Robert said...

I just finished reading 'The Summoner,' and I agree with your review completely. I would add though, that although I too enjoyed this book and found it a quick and engaging read (despite being almost 650 pages), I at times thought that I could have been reading the manual for an RPG. I also thought, despite the breezy prose, that the story really started to bog down during the last quarter or so. Overall, I would have given this book around 2 of 5.

Robert said...

Robert, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I actually just finished the sequel to "The Summoner" not too longe ago. "The Blood King" is a little darker in areas, and I thought the characterization was better, but basically, it was more of the same. So, I wonder if you'll check it out...

Dave said...

I enjoyed reading your review Robert, as well as The Summoner by Gail Martin.

I confess to laughing out loud during the introduction of the warrior princess, Kiara Sharsequin. But I also thought it was the intention of the author to introduce a lightness throughout the story.

This was a little confusing in the lack of concern shown over the disappearance and likely death of two of the main characters during the slavers attack. Especially in the case of Carina losing her twin brother. Possibly she had already read the final chapter and knew they were fine.

Maybe there is a message to young teenagers, who I assumed to be the main target audience. There is a wonderfully understated if farfetched way that the adventurers take events in their stride. We are spared overlong passages of self deprecation and mawdling. The path in front of them is straight if difficult, and they do not dismiss the challenges they have to face.

Overall an enjoyable and lighthearted addition to the fantasy genre, and I look forward to reading the Blood King soon.

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