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Literature / The Summoner Trilogy

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The Summoner Trilogy by Taran Matharu, is a relatively new and unknown but well-written series. It takes place in a fantasy medieval setting, where the rare ability to summon demons is prized and the magocratic Hominum Empire wars with the orc tribes in their quest to expand. In a remote village far away from the war, a blacksmith’s apprentice named Fletcher discovers he has this ability; shortly after he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and is left with little choice but to flee and join the Vocans Academy to be trained as a battlemage.

Books in the series:

  • The Novice
  • The Inquisition
  • The Battlemage

There is also a planned novel around Arcturus, called The Outcast, to be released in 2018.

This series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Several. This is noted to be unusual and a result of the empire’s desperation for new soldiers, as girls usually aren’t accepted as battlemages.
  • Adults Are Useless: Averted and justified. While they are essentially training groups of Child Soldiers, it’s only because the war is eating adults too fast for them to be replaced, so they need to pull in everyone they can. And while Fletcher and the other students of Vocans are tasked with the invasion of an orc fortress in The Inquisition, it's partially because they're viewed as more replaceable than the experienced adults.
  • Affably Evil: The Forsyths and their father are unfailingly polite, even pretending to be friendly at times, but are arrogant and selfish, concerned only with their own standing, and are plotting to start several more wars for profit.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Fletcher and Seraph are teenage boys, after all, so it’s no surprise they get distracted by several passing pretty girls. Though they don’t mean any harm by it; Fletcher's response to walking in on Sylva in her nightclothes is averting his eyes and apologizing.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The orcs. Then subverted, as Fletcher and his friends encounter an aging orc who goes only by "Mother", who tells them that most orcs are actually peaceful; the ones they fight are fanatics who enslave the rest of their race, ensuring that the only orcs they ever see are the evil ones.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: There’s a barrier spell that completely protects one from being cut or injured, but it requires four powerful summoners to maintain it on the target, making it very impractical for the battlefield. Usually it only sees use for the king or during tournaments.
  • Badass Teacher: The teachers at Vocans are all high-ranking military personnel who have taken leave of the front lines to train the next generation of soldiers.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Sylva’s injuries after her loss in the tournament are given a lot of detail.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Novice ends with one. While Fletcher and his friends stop the Forsyths’ plans for war and do well enough in the tournament to earn commissions and respect for their races/houses, Sylva is in a coma and Fletcher is arrested.
  • Can't Catch Up: Genevieve, Rory and Atlas. Especially Rory. Deconstructed in that they were excluded from Fletcher and the others’ training because of their lack of talent, so they never even got the chance to try to catch up, which they angrily call them out on.
  • Cannon Fodder: The war with the orcs has gone on for so long that the Hominum Empire has taken to loading their army with this, forcing criminals and prisoners to join and pushing Child Soldiers through military training as quickly as they can.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Fletcher’s tracking and hunting talent is shown off early on. He later uses it to track Sylva to the dwarven meeting, putting him in a position to help stop the Forsyths' attack.
    • His blacksmith skills also help him earn the respect of the dwarves, which is instrumental in changing Othello and Atilla's minds about humanity and stopping a dwarven uprising.
    • The dirty fighting he learns in the tavern fight early on is used to beat Malik in the tournament.
  • Child Soldier: Fletcher and the others are about fifteen, but are being trained as soldiers. While Fletcher was given a choice, it’s suggested that the others didn’t get that luxury, and noble children are explicitly forced into service.
  • Cliffhanger: The first book ends with Fletcher getting arrested.
    • The second book ends with Fletcher, Othello, Sylva and Cress having to dive into the ether.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Zigzagged. While looking for the Euryale flowers in the rim of an active volcano, Fletcher and Sylva have to use boulders to hide from the heat and when Ignatius goes for a swim in the lava, Fletcher is unable to follow due to the extreme temperature. But not even a full chapter later, Ignatius jumps out of said lava and scoop Fletcher onto his back almost immediately. Even if Fletcher himself is heatproof at this point thanks to bonding a drake, his clothes and gear should have instantly combusted on contact from Ignatius’s skin, which was still presumably as hot as molten rock.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Surely a childhood rivalry is enough reason for Didric to try and kill Fletcher, then frame him when he fails.
  • Dreaming of Times Gone By: Fletcher has a dream of the Second Orc War, which is actually caused by his Psychic Link with Ignatius, who was there. He’s not really dreaming, he’s witnessing Ignatius’s memories.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Ceteans, or The Old Ones, are giant, incredibly powerful demons living in the deepest abyss of the deadlands. They cannibalize each other and anything unfortunate enough to be nearby, and the one glimpse we get of them is a writhing mass of tentacles and teeth. Captain Lovett, a hardened war veteran, even says she would ordinarily never step near them and only does so because she wants her students to know where they are so they can avoid them.
  • Eldritch Location: The ether- the plane the demons live in. While humans can visit, they need to dress up in very protective gear to do so, and a single inhale of the poisonous fumes will put them into a coma. Continued exposure eventually leads to death, if some demon doesn’t get them first.
  • The Empath: Demons communicate with their summoner through emotions and visualized intentions, not verbal words.
  • The Empire: The Hominum Empire.
  • Enemy Mine: The Hominum Empire’s cease-fire with the elven tribes was caused by this. While they don’t really like each other, they both hate the orcs much more.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Zacharias Forsyth may be a racist, shrewd and ruthless businessman who tries to start wars for profit, but when Fletcher meets him, he’s openly affectionate to his two children. They’re just as affectionate to him.
  • Fantastic Racism: Everyone towards everyone. The humans and elves just finished a war and still have lingering resentment, mistrust and hate over it. Humans view dwarves as savages who can’t understand diplomacy, while dwarves view them as uncaring and power-hungry tyrants. All three of them despise the orcs, and the orcs despise them as well. Finally, even among the humans there’s division between the nobles and commoners.
  • From Dress to Dressing: Sylva rips off parts of her dress to patch Fletcher and Othello up after they rescue her from an angry mob.
  • Functional Magic: Played With. There are thousands upon thousands of spells with many uses, so many that it would take decades to learn them all. But since the Hominum Empire is trying to get summoners on the front lines as soon as possible, they’ve taken to speeding up their education and only teaching them the basics.
  • Ghost Memory: The bond with demons means that their owners can sometimes witness their memories.
  • Gray-and-Grey Morality: The human-orc war. While the orcs may be Always Chaotic Evil who have long preyed on the humans, the Hominum Empire escalated the conflict by invading and clearing the orcs’ forests to fuel their industrial revolution, dragging the two races into a nearly-decade-long war with casualties so high, the humans have resorted to using Child Soldiers and conscripting prisoners.
    • The human-dwarf conflict, too. On the one hand, the dwarves have been oppressed by humans for years. On the other hand, they’re constantly offered diplomatic terms, which they constantly refuse in favor of trying to rebel.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Sixteen years of imprisonment by the orcs has driven Lady Cadavish real name Alice Raleigh completely mad when Fletcher and the others arrive to rescue her.
  • Holding Back the Phlebotinum: The second book reveals that the orcs have a high number of extremely powerful demons in their army, which they haven't sent to the front lines yet to fool the Hominum Empire into thinking they're weaker than they actually are.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Decades if not centuries of oppression and inequality has left the dwarves with this mindset towards the humans.
  • Improbable Age: Whoever wins the tournament will be due to a captaincy; runner ups can earn various positions as lieutenants. This is despite most of the students being in the fourteen to sixteen range. Justified, as the Hominum Empire is trying to push students through the school and onto the front lines as quickly as possible.
  • Interspecies Romance: Mentioned in the second book; Cress briefly details how such unions are frowned upon in dwarf society (and likely everywhere else) and how the children of such unions get the worst dose of Fantastic Racism yet.
  • It Can Think: In the second book, Fletcher has a moment of shock when he realizes the gremlin he rescued is actually intelligent and can speak. Later, everyone has this horrified realization about the orcs when they realize the orcs have been deliberating holding back to lure the Hominum Empire into a false sense of security.
  • Magocracy: Essentially. Magical ability is passed through one’s bloodline, with the firstborn child always inheriting it and the rest having a one-in-three-chance. Because battlemages and summoners are constantly fighting, they’re rewarded with positions of nobility and positions in the king’s court for their courage. It’s essentially impossible to advance up the social ladder without magic, and the nobility do their best to ensure no one outside their houses inherits it.
  • Magic Knight: What battlemages essentially are. They wear armor, learn swordplay and magic in equal measures, know how to summon demons, and are deployed on the front lines as soon as they finish training.
  • Medieval European Fantasy: One that's right on the cusp of an industrial revolution.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Fletcher's dad had his demon, Athena, carry him off to safety as their family estate was being attacked. Fletcher gets a firsthand veiw of the incident when the king gives him Athena and Fletcher gets an infusion dream from her, confirming that he is indeed the Raleigh's lost child.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Othello somehow beating his opponent in the tournament with a broken leg, and Sylva defeating Isadora and putting up a good fight against Tarquin. Since the narrator follows Fletcher’s POV, we don’t see either of these, just the aftermath.
  • Our Demons Are Different: They’re more True Neutral than evil, becoming perfectly friendly towards their summoner once tamed. There are also many different species of many shapes and size, and while they are intelligent, they don’t actually speak, instead communicating by sending images and emotions to another’s brain.
  • Our Elves Are Different: From what we know of them, they’re tribal as opposed to a benevolent, all-knowing empire, and actually lost their ability to summon demons thanks to constant dueling, meaning they aren’t magical, either—Sylva is the first one in a thousand years to show the talent for it.
  • Parental Abandonment: Fletcher was ditched by his mom in the snow outside the village of Pelt as a baby. Turns out, they didn't have a choice about it.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The dwarves deconstruct this. Their race’s focus on war, craftsmanship and honor has left them little skill in diplomacy, so when the Hominum Empire starts restricting their rights, they see no option but violence, which only fulfils humanity’s negative view of them and makes their situation even worse.
  • Psychic Link: Summoners have one with their demons, which they use to see through their eyes, view their memories, and issue mental commands. The bond also lets them not just sense each other’s emotions or injuries, but feel them as well; several times the narrative notes a demon or their summoner wincing in pain after the other is wounded, and Sylva blushes and gets flustered when Fletcher starts stroking her demon, Sariel.
  • Rabble Rouser: The unnamed mob leader, who is working for the Forsyths and plays off the citizens’ Fantastic Racism towards elves to whip up a mob that would have killed Sylva had Fletcher and Othello not helped her escape.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Ignatius turns out to have been around during the Second Orc War, which would make him over two thousand years old.
  • Red Herring: Shortly after his arrival to Vocans, Fletcher spots a figure with long red hair sneaking around at night. The next morning has him eyeing Genevieve’s red hair suspiciously. The narrative does this to misdirect the reader away from the other redhead and the actual figure he’d seen, Othello.
    • He also overhears Tarquin and Isadora talking about their fathers’ plot to remove one of their competitors, and assumes they’re talking about Seraph’s family. While they would like to get rid of him, their actual target for this plot is the dwarves.
    • The second book brings up several possible candidates for the assassin and saboteur among the group. None of the people it names is the traitor; it's actually Jeffrey.
  • Restored My Faith in Humanity: Fletcher does this for Othello and later, Othello’s brother Atilla.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The nobility are expected put their magical abilities to use on the front lines, which they all do. Even Fletcher, for all his dislike of Tarquin, has to admit the boy is certainly courageous and a good fighter.
  • Sadist Teacher: Inquisitor Rook, Captain Lovett’s replacement, is unapologetically biased towards the nobility, giving the commoners the worst assignments, worst equipment, and constant verbal belittlement.
  • The Social Darwinist: The Straw Meritocrat type is at work in Vocans. The better you do on your exams, the higher your first commission is when you graduate. The problem is, things are skewed towards the nobility from the start, as they’ve been trained from birth and receive better demons. It’s all justified as they’re being sent to the front lines, so naturally nobody would want someone in command who isn’t suited for it, though it still doesn’t excuse the blatant favoritism towards the upper class.
  • Summon Magic: The entire premise of the series is using this to summon and control demons.
  • Token Minority: Invoked. Othello and Sylva are the sole representatives of dwarves and elves, respectively, at Vocans, as diplomatic efforts on the Hominum Empire’s parts to repair relations between them and the other two races.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The Forsyths are very good at this.
    • Their plan with Sylva was to lead her into the marketplace and allow her to be captured by men they had waiting, who would then incite a mob into killing her. As she is a princess of the elves, this would create a war between elves and humans, allowing the Forsyths weapons business to flourish. If the mob didn’t kill her, however, she’d have little choice but to rely on the Forsyths for protection, securing them an ally and a weapons contract with her father.
    • They also came within a hair of inciting a civil war between the dwarves and Hominum Empire, which would not only allow their business to flourish, but remove one of their chief competitors—Seraph’s family—from the market.
  • Vicious Cycle: The dwarves’ main beef with the humans is that they’re constantly passing laws restricting the number of rights they can have. Their solution to this is to rise up and try to break free, only to be put down because the humans have superior numbers and mages. After this, the humans restrict more of their rights as punishment and the whole thing starts over again. However, Othello is able to dissuade the dwarves from trying this again, potentially breaking the cycle.
  • Wizard Duel: Between Fletcher and Tarquin at the end of the tournament.
  • Wizarding School: Vocans is part this, part military academy; it trains its students as not just wizards, but soldiers too, turning them into Child Soldier battlemages.

Alternative Title(s): The Novice, The Inquisition, The Battlemage