Book Review: The Novice

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The Novice by Taran Matharu




Genre: Fantasy, YA
Author: Taran Matharu
Published: May 2015
Publisher: Hodder Children’s
Pages: 390 {paperback}

Original review on Goodreads

Goodreads summary

When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.

Sorcery, Friendly Demons, and Wars

The Novice is a really, really great read. I enjoyed it immensely. I’m tempted to call it a middle grade novel, but it seems Goodreads wants to call it Young Adult. So perhaps we can meet in the middle and call it fantasy for the young at heart? We follow the delightful character of Fletcher, a young, orphaned boy, as he gets swept into Adept Military Academy. In the beginning he is living in a little town called Pelt where he’s pretty badly bullied but we also learn that he’s quite a strong character. There’s a war going on and also what is basically civil unrest; the humans don’t like the dwarves, the elves aren’t too fond of anyone, and the orcs are hated by all. So there’s this war, and Fletcher is supposed to fight in it. Safe to say, there’s a lot of glorious action in this story, and I’m a real sucker for magic of any sort. I loved the academy and the teachers there, and I love that there’s tension between the students who are commoners and the nobles, and that there is also tension between the teachers (which you understand more in the prequel, Origins; you can see my review for that here). I feel like you hit a certain point in this book and it’s like yup, I’m in this for the long haul. It’s just so good.

The progression of this story is so interesting; there’s a lot going on and Matharu pulls it off really well. The world building, I think, is quite subtle which makes it easier to swallow. There’s obviously an underlying layer of politics and a whole heap of characters to develop. There’s so much to discuss for this book that I think the actual best way to understand what you’re going to experience, is to just go and read it.

Summoning & Demons

I think this element of the story is probably what makes it for me. The whole demon thing is super cool. Each summoner is paired with a demon that’s conjured from the nether world thing, which is basically a very cool, parallel world where beasts of all shapes and sizes lurk. There are some seriously cool looking demons. They’re bonded to their summoners so they can perform some pretty cool magic and kick-ass scenes together – and who doesn’t love that? Like, okay: imagine Harry Potter, if Harry and Hedwig had like a telepathic bond . . . mind blown? Thought so.

The summoning is pretty badass, too. The summoners have to squiggle little symbols in the air before they can perform a particular spell which seems like a lot of effort, but fear not, our clever protagonist finds a way to make this slightly more practical. I don’t want to talk about what exactly this involves too much, so as not to spoil you . . .

Click here to see a hidden spoiler at this point in my review on Goodreads.

Sidenote: The fact that the summoners can feel what their demons feel is absolutely hilarious (more so in Origins) like when Fletcher blushes, for example, when someone gives his demon a scratch. It’s like some adorably sweet school romance. Naww.

Dwarves & Elves

So just in case you didn’t think summoning and demons weren’t cool enough, behold: magical creatures. I love dwarves and elves in books, and I haven’t read much fantasy lately with them in it (thanks to the huge amount of faerie books currently out – I’m looking at you, Julie Kagawa), so it was nice to have this conflict of: can humans get along with different races? (Clearly not). But I have high hopes that Fletcher’s going to become king, or something crazy like that, and exile all the snobby nobles to Tartarus and peace and happiness will reign. But this is fantasy, so I’m sure that a) that won’t happen, and b) there’ll be a lot of drama. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the roles these guys had to play in the book and I like that it’s not a clear cut good-guy-teams-up-with-magical-beings, versus, snobby-nobles type of thing – you are left in suspense for a good long while.

Can we talk about that  cliff hanger?

Ummm. . . this is not okay. The whole book was snowballing into one epically, epic adventure and then BOOM. Cliff hanger. I don’t think I’ve read such a cruel cliff hanger for a while: usually they’re like, oh and then I’ll save the world, dun dun dunn. But nooo, this one was all like, let’s literally cut the story off at a painful point. We are left waiting for a year for the next book (which I am highly anticipating and will be running to the bookstore to buy as soon as it is out) to find out the result of the last statement of the book. *Arrgghh* Cruelty I tell you, cruelty. This is me, realising just how long a year is, and how I simply cannot wait that long for a sequel:


I highly, highly recommend this book. If you like fantasy, I feel pretty confident in guaranteeing that you’ll like this book. Despite this taking a while for me to read (mostly because I went on holiday, I know right, gosh) when I did read it, I couldn’t put it down. I really love the world that this is set in and I’m very keen to get my hands on the second book to find out what happens next. I think Matharu has done a most excellent job in creating this adventure and I think it’s only going to get better from here on in. I’m really interested to see where the story is heading and I feel like I might just be brave enough to say that this feels a lot like Harry Potter. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then I don’t know what will. So much delicious magic and adventure!

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Have you read The Novice? What did you think – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Arrivederci tutti and happy reading!

~~ Kirstie ~~

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