The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin

February 11, 2008 at 3:34 pm (Gail Z. Martin, Reviews)

I first read Gail Z. Marin’s The Summoner last year, I say it was summer, maybe late spring. I remembered enjoying it. I remembered looking forward to the next Chronicles of the Necromancer book. But somewhere between finishing The Summoner, and last weeks release of The Blood King, I forgot what it was about. Was the book that unremarkable, or have I just read too much in the interim (I think it’s actually a little of both). So I decided to give myself a refresher and take it back off the shelf.

Some vague details of the story came back quickly enough once I started reading, but much of it remained lost, and so was like reading it for the first time.

Matris Drayke is the second son to King Bricen, favored by the people of Margolan but content in his minor role. His older, half-brother Jared and his blood mage Foor Arontala raise a coup and murder Bricen and Tris’s mother and sister. With the help of his closest friends, Ban Soterius and Carroway, along with loyal guardsman Tov Harrtuck, and a helpful ghost, Tris manages to flee Shekerishet castle into the surrounding countryside. Vowing to avenge his avenge his family’s murder and free their souls, Matris Drayke must escape the kingdom of Margolan and learn to use his powerful spirit magic to save his father’s kingdom and defeat Arontala before he can release the dreaded Obsidian King. The plan is to head for the neighboring country Dhasson, ruled by King Harrol, Tris’s uncle, and win their aid in deposing Jared. Along the way, they hire mercenary/smuggler Jonmarc Vahanian to guide them through the perilous journey.

Meanwhile, in the country of Isencroft, Princess Kiara Sharsequin is desperate to find a cure for a mysterious illness that has befallen her father, King Donelan (her distant cousin Carina had already been sent to the Sisterhood, but had yet to return with a solution), and to avoid a pre-arranged marriage to Jared of Margolan.

The Summoner is only the first half of the story; the return home is going to wait for the next book.

So, it’s pretty basic story, and it has some basic characters to match. Tris manages to be an ignorant farmboy despite being a prince. He is young and naïve, but he has had his memories locked away, so I he has an excuse. Vahanian is a typical hardnosed nomadic mercenary. A man of worldly experience, he falls into a mentor-like role to the young prince. Vahanian, while not the main character, is the only one who has any measure of depth. Once he is introduced, he takes command of the story. In fact, often times, it feels like this is really Vahanian’s story, and Matris Drayke is simple along for the ride. Tris is likeable enough, but ultimately shallow. There was potential for him to be a much better character, but she had him brush over what should have been some very difficult decisions with little thought. Had she drawn out his internal conflict, it would have made for a more believable character. But still, he is charming.

Beyond those two, everyone else is pretty flat. There’s Kiara – the warrior princess, Soterius – loosely taking the barbarian role for coming from a mountainous people, Harrtuck – the veteran soldier, Carina – the healer, and Carroway – the bard. On the other side is Jared – the despotic king, Arontala – his evil mage and the Obsidian King – the god-like uber-villain. A basic fantasy cast.

The events of the story are driven by an active Goddess, who will randomly appear to bail Tris out of a mess, guide the different characters together, or send a messenger with timely information. It might seem, to some people, a bit of a cop-out. For myself, the approach takes a little bit of the sting off; instead of trying to pass these events off as purely coincidental, she allows for a higher power to direct events, sort of a consolation, an admission of guild, that she couldn’t come up with a better way: if things fall together a little too neatly, well, it’s the will of the Goddess.

The story is all formulaic and forgettable, but Gail Z. Martin makes up for it with the narrative. The language is fairly simple, and plenty of awkward phrasing, but keeps a brisk pace with plenty of action. It’s also clean (as in largely without profanities), and she refrains from overly-gory descriptions in the books many skirmishes. The Summoner is well foreshadowed throughout, but between that and the familiar plot, it does get a little predictable. The book has a lackluster start, but every turned page pulled me deeper into the tale, so that by the end, I was excited at the prospect of beginning The Blood King.

And now for my complaints (which may be minor spoilers). First of all, there were no zombies. Now, if you’re going to call a book The Summoner, have a main character that’s a necromancer, and tell me that he is going to raise armies of the undead (back cover)… well, what does that mean but zombies, right? Nope. Tris is a necromancer, true, but he’s not allowed to raise zombies. That would make him a bad guy. That’s what the Obsidian King did, and why he’s the world’s great villain. His Summoner powers mainly center around ghosts – calling ghosts, seeing ghosts, getting them to help out, giving them their final rest (he can also perform more generic spells). That’s all well enough, but I was hoping for zombies! The “armies of undead” are actually vampires (termed vayash moru in the novel).

Second, as basic as the story was, I thought that she was at least steer away from a few of the genre cliché’s. And it looked good… for a while. There were no ancient prophesies, which I appreciated, but the Goddess’s frequent intervention still gave it a prophetic feel. Not exactly the same, true, but close enough. “You are my chosen warrior, the hope of the world rest in your hands… blah, blah, blah.”

And third, the magic sword. Have we not had enough magic swords already? I thought we were going to get out of this one too. There was no mention of a magic sword… until the last fifty or so pages. Why, Gail, did you have to blow it in the end like that?

One consolation, though, was that Tris, bumbling farmboy prince that he is, doesn’t just instinctively develop his magic. He’s had training. A lot of training. Though his memories have been suppressed so he doesn’t know it. Then, when he’s reacquainted with those memories, he’s still only a mid-level mage for all that. And it is a decent magic system.

Overall Impression: Pretty Good.

Final Thoughts: The Summoner doesn’t break any new ground, but good pacing and likeable characters keep it interesting and engaging. A solid light read.

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2 Comments

  1. SQT said,

    I wasn’t able to get into this right off, but your review makes me think it might be better than I originally thought. At least it sounds like it has some redeeming qualities.

  2. Jeff C said,

    I have to admit I am one of those that couldnt get past the cliches and bland ideas. To me, it felt like an Eddings book, but not as well written. It also seemed like the characters always had a “feeling” when danger was coming. I didnt hate it, but also couldnt see myself recommend it. I do have book 2 on my shelf, though.

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