Book Review: The Novice by Taran Matharu

DISCLAIMER: JUST LIKE THE PREVIOUS BOOK REVIEW I’VE DONE, THIS WILL PROBABLY CONTAIN SPOILERS. DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU DO NOT MIND SPOILERS OR YOU’VE ALREADY READ THE BOOK.

This time, the book I’ve read is called The Novice by Taran Matharu. It takes place in a fantasy type of universe this time. Here is the summary for this book:

“Fletcher is working as a blacksmith’s apprentice when he discovers he has the rare ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, Fletcher must travel with his demon, Ignatius, to an academy for adepts, where the gifted are taught the art of summoning.
Along with nobles and commoners, Fletcher endures grueling lessons that will prepare him to serve as a Battlemage in the Empire’s war against the savage Orcs. But sinister forces infect new friendships and rivalries grow. With no one but Ignatius by his side, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of the Empire is in his hands…”

The summary might make you think of Harry Potter just slightly, specifically the first book, since the main character, Fletcher, discovers that he has the power of magic (specifically summoning demons in this case) and he ends up running to an Academy. The friends Fletcher makes at the academy, such as Othello, might even remind you slightly of Ron and Hermione because they all learn to get along with each other despite all their differences.

The vibe I got from reading this book was a mix of Harry Potter, The Last Story (which is a video game, not a book if you’re wondering), and also a bit of Dragon Age mixed into it also. The Harry Potter vibes I got came from Fletcher just being so bold enough to stand up to those of noble status, as well as sticking up for the friends he makes. As for the Last Story vibes, I can easily see similarities between characters Zael (from the Last Story—he’s the protagonist) and Fletcher, as they both only mean to do good and they aspire to see a more peaceful world. Zael aspires to restore peace in the Empire in the Last Story, while Fletcher hopes that humans, elves and dwarves in his world will put aside their racial hatred for each other and just work together like they used to in the past.

The Dragon Age vibes I got from this book came from the whole racial hatred thing as well as politics that were going on between the humans, elves and dwarves in the book. It’s really easy to see, especially later on in the book, how much hatred can run deep between the three races and it’s also exemplified that the nobles seemed to all look down on those of lower status, the commoners in the book. I liked how they made that distinct, emphasizing the fact that the world portrayed in The Novice is more complex than just one big war happening in the background. There is tension almost everywhere, even at the academy where they train students like Fletcher and Othello to properly handle the demons they can summon so they can be fit for the battlefield.

In terms of the characters themselves, I think it’s fair to say that Fletcher definitely had some decent development attached to him. In the beginning he’s not afraid to stand for himself when he’s obviously being made fun of, but later on he’s willing to stand up not just for himself, but his friends. He’s not afraid to piss off nobles that could easily use their influence to give him some harsh punishment or get him in trouble for things he didn’t do, and he’s not afraid to stand up for his friends. It’s really easy to get into his head and know what he’s thinking. As for the other characters in this book, I rather liked Othello also. He’s grumpy and all when he is first encountered in the novel but it’s soon revealed that he’s actually a decent guy and he’s only doing his best to try to make things right between dwarves and humans at least.

However, the letdown in terms of characterization came from the nobles. Although they were supposed to be minor/antagonistic characters in the book towards Fletcher especially, I just wish there was some variety in terms of their views towards the characters of lower status and the dwarven and elven races. It seemed that all of the nobles in the book were just super-mean to everyone else, but seriously, there HAS to be SOME nobles that actually care for the characters of lower status and races other than human, right? I felt that it played on this view that all nobles must be rude and stuff to others when it could have easily been broken by letting one or two of those noble-type characters swallowing their pride and admitting defeat. But nope. That didn’t happen, so that was the letdown for characters for me.

Any concepts in fantasy genre, just like in steampunk as I mentioned in my previous book review, need to be explained so that the readers make sense of it in my opinion. Since there was an academy where they taught students how to handle the demons they summoned, I had high expectations that they would give a good but not-too-long expectation that they would properly explain any fantasy concepts or ideas in the book. I was not disappointed—the book does a very good job of explaining certain concepts, and that extends even beyond just the things that Fletcher learns in his classes at the academy. It even delves into some of the racial tension between elves, humans and dwarves, too, and I found that to be a strong point in this book.

Plot-wise, I felt that the pace was good—it wasn’t too slow or fast at all. The description within the plot for describing characters, settings, etc. was actually well-placed and didn’t bog down the pace of the story. I even liked the ending, too—it was a bit of a cliffhanger, but it was expected as The Novice is actually the first book out of a trilogy.

Overall, I’m giving this book 4.9 out of 5 stars, with only the lack of varied characterization for the noble-type characters being the one thing from giving this a perfect score. If you’ve read Harry Potter or one of the novels that go with the Dragon Age franchise, or you’re just looking for a good fantasy genre book, I would totally recommend this.

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