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Book Review: The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin

Genre: Epic Fantasy
ISBN: 1844164683
ISBN-13: 9781844164684
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 640pp
Publisher: Solaris
Pub. Date: January 2007
Series: Chronicles of the Necromancer Ser.

The Summoner is a novel with an interesting concept with only fair execution. An epic fantasy, The Summoner, the debut novel of Gail Z. Martin, intrigued me from the moment I heard of it. Often in epic fantasy, the necromancer (a mage with the ability to commune with or raise the dead) is an evil character. Martin decided to turn this on its head and make the necromancer character the hero of the story. I thought that was a creative idea, a new take on an old story. And it was. But I still found reading it a lot like reading some of Robert Jordan�s books from the middle of the Wheel of Time series. A lot of actions are described, but not a lot of plot progress is made.

The Summoner tells the tale of Martris Drayke, second son of the king, who sees his family murdered, and is subsequently forced to flee to his uncle�s kingdom. Unbeknownst to him, he is a summoner, a necromantic mage with power over spirits and the undead. Meanwhile, Kiara, princess of Isencroft, seeks to save her dying father and her ailing country by going on a Journey to seek help.

The majority of the story follows Martris (Tris) as he wanders around his own country trying to get to his uncles� kingdom of Dhasson. During this time, he encounters restless spirits who have been wandering the earth since the last Summoner, his grandmother, died. Each encounter leaves him with more knowledge about his abilities, giving the story a sort of coming-of-age feel as well as the epic it is marketed as.

The idea of the novel itself is fantastic. I mean, who hasn�t thought about why necromancers are always evil? Martin has managed to create a novel with a magic system that allows for a necromancer to be a good rather than evil character. Vampires even, are neither good nor bad, simply different. This is a neat idea. Her history of how all this came about is also rather creative and the enigma of the Sisterhood provides some interesting back-story. However, that back-story is not set far enough in the past, and it causes some of the sweeping changes that occurred after only fifty years a little hard to believe, even for a fantasy novel.

Tris and Kiara are both interesting characters, and much of the story is told from their perspectives. They become the most fully-fleshed and rounded out characters of the story. However, Martin makes a mistake in introducing so many characters that she does not have the time to really give them personality. Most of the characters are stereotypes, or provide a plot twist without any characterization. leaving them seeming flat and unreal. Harrtack, Soterius and Carroway could all have been combined into one character without detriment to the story and would have then been able to be more than uninteresting secondary characters. The character Vahanian obviously gained Martin�s interest as she wrote him, and he becomes a character of some complexity as well.

But Martin tried to do too much too quickly in this novel. Too many characters are introduced without giving them personality, and some characters disappear out of the narrative for hundreds of pages and then suddenly reappear to make a comment that could have been made by any of the characters. When three significant characters go missing (one the brother of another character) the group of characters we follow seem wholly unaffected by the loss and never wonder about their fates, even after the immediate danger has passed. This, combined with the flat nature of the characters makes it hard to feel any real empathy for them. The lack of empathy makes the reader care little for what happens to them and so care little for the direction of the story.

Ultimately, it is the lack of empathy for the characters that brings The Summoner down from really great novel to only a fair to middling story. Conceptually, it is great. The writing is only acceptable, not great. The story takes far to many pages to bring Tris to adulthood and a realization of his power, lacks enough foreshadowing to make the revelations interesting, and has a tendency to be rather redundant. The redundancy appears in Tris or Kiara realizing some truth about themselves, and then it being reiterated a few pages later, for no particular reason. It is as if Martin doesn�t think the reader got the idea that Tris could see spirits, and so we are told many times that he can see them and, �not just on Haunts�. The reader feels treated like an idiot, and the redundancy adds pages without adding value.

The plot moves slowly, the characters are only half-formed, there is an excess of redundant statements or story arc, and I as a reader just could not find myself identifying with Tris in any significant way. The Summoner is a great concept whose writer and editor simply couldn�t bring themselves to cut some of the less necessary subplots and merge unnecessary characters into one. The end result is a book that will leave readers feeling that they read a long book where very little really happened.

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