Book Review: The Outcast

The Outcast
Summoner
Trilogy prequel
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA fantasy

Outcast

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the books in the trilogy, The Novice, The Inquisition, and The Battlemage.

In a land where only children of noble birth have the ability to summon demons, Arcturus, an orphan and stable boy, accidentally becomes the first common summoner. He is drawn into a political battle that threatens his life and the lives of those noble-born students he is studying alongside. He’ll have to choose between his fellow commoners or his fellow summoners.

On its own, this book was intriguing and exciting with good world-building and some engaging characters. However, as a prequel, it had some issues–namely too much repetition from the original trilogy and too many characters in common.

The first third or so was especially had a lot of similarities to the first book in the series. A commoner unintentionally summons a demon, is whisked away to Vocans, the summoner school, and is snubbed by some, but not all, of the nobles while being far friendlier with the servants and “lower” races than most other humans. Even some of the early explanations of how spells work felt repetitious.

Prince Harold in particular I really liked in this book. And Captain Lovett as a teenager was quite the fun and rambunctious character too. However, while it was kinda neat to see characters in this book that were in the trilogy, or were parents of characters in the trilogy, when all of these characters who we know are alive years later are put into peril, there’s no question of whether they will survive or not. Though I will say that, for me, this didn’t mean there was no suspense. There was still some danger, but it wasn’t as exciting as it could have been.

As for Arcturus himself, who is very similar in personality to Fletcher from the trilogy, when I was reading through the trilogy, I really liked Arcturus. And when I saw there was a prequel about him, I expected there to be a lot more of him in the last half of the trilogy than there ended up being. In the end, perhaps he wasn’t the best choice for the subject of a full-length prequel novel. Yes, he was the first common summoner, which was mentioned in the trilogy but made for a decent story on its own. But from what I understand, Matharu had already written a shorter story of his origin, and then later turned that into the full novel. But the story wasn’t far enough removed, and the time it took place wasn’t long enough before the trilogy, for this to work all that well as a prequel.

I wonder if it might actually work better if this book were to be read before the trilogy. I can’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be some world-building that was lacking in the prequel, because the reader is expected to know the world already, but I didn’t really think that was the case. Whether or not someone who has read the trilogy absolutely needs to read the prequel before calling this series complete, I would say…it’s a toss-up.

Find out more about The Outcast

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Top Ten Tuesday: Side Characters I Love

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. Today’s topic is a freebie about love. I was going to skip this week, but then I hit on an idea. For my list this week, I’m listing 10 side/minor characters in novels that I loved. It’s easy to list main characters that I like, especially in books that I rated high. But something I always find fascinating is when I like a side character at least much as I like the main character(s). Even if the book ends up being one that I don’t love, I’ll always feel connected to that character. Here is my list in no particular order, because I couldn’t quite order them:

1. Levi Cobb from The Oath by Frank E. Peretti
He’s the town crackpot…talks to inanimate objects, preaches at everyone who comes to his garage, and talks about dragons. But really, he knows a lot more than people realize and is the only one in town with any real sense. And then he saves the day! (See my review for this book here.)

2. Dale of Priceless by Joel & Luke Smallbone
With his own troubled past to fuel him, Dale prods the main character to do the right thing. I don’t know if I would have loved Dale as much as I do if I hadn’t seen the movie before reading the book, as he was very well-portrayed by David Koechner. But even if that’s the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s my favorite character in the book. (See my review for this book here.)

3. Matthew Cuthbert of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne herself is a lovable character, but I really identified with her adoptive…father? Uncle? To be honest, I’m not real clear on how that whole thing worked. But this older gentleman is shyer than me, and that’s truly saying something. Yet, to watch how he fell in love with this little girl I really think I think was a huge part of what made me fall in love with the book.  (See my review for this book here.)

4. Walagash of The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
The way Walagash treated Myrad, the MC, in a culture where people took care of their own and didn’t have much love for strangers, endeared him to me early on in this book. And as the story went on, he became like a father to Myrad, and I loved him more and more. (See my review for this book here.)

5 & 6. Berdon Wulf and Arcturus of The Summoner Trilogy by Taran Matharu
I tried to decide between these two, but I gave up and decided to include them both. Berdon is the MC’s adoptive father and provides much-needed strength and stability throughout the trilogy, when he can anyway. Maybe it’s because he’s a blacksmith like my own dad, or maybe it’s because the MC’s dad in my own book is also a blacksmith, but I really liked Berdon.

Arcturus is the kind and fair mentor who takes Fletcher, who is brand new to this magical world, under his wing somewhat. Even more, there’s a question about a familial connection that I won’t say any more about, because it ventures into spoiler territory. There’s a reason that the prequel to the series focuses on Arcturus, and I’m looking forward to reading it. (See my review for the first book in the trilogy here.)

7. Dr. John Francis of Thr3e by Ted Dekker
Dr. Francis was a professor (I think of theology), and the book starts with him and Kevin (the MC) discussing the nature of evil in man. As the story unfolds and the FBI agent is trying to understand what on earth is happening to/with Kevin, the professor helps her work through some questions. And he ended up playing a huge role in the climax that I really loved, which made it all the worse that the professor had no part in the climax in the movie version. (See my review of this book here.)

8. Arthur Weasley of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I just finished reading this, so it’s fresh in my mind. While the HP books have a lot of interesting and lovable side characters, I found myself mentally cheering for the Weasley patriarch when he was so appalled by the way the Dursleys treated Harry near the beginning of the book. While the reader (and Harry) may accept their terrible behavior (because what else can we do about it?), Arthur gets to say to them what we wish we could.

9. Zander Cruz of Stealthy Steps by Vikki Kestell
Christians in fiction (in any medium) are often represented as overly preachy or as more depraved than the non-Christians. This associate pastor was a realistic example of Christians–he loved God and loved people, had a difficult past, and still struggled with his sinful nature as a pastor. Sadly, his status as my favorite character in the book slipped in the 2nd installment of the series, but I’m hoping to see him re-instated in the last 2 books. (See my review of this book here.)

 

Pithea cover, Kindle

10. Jonathan of Pithea by Kristi Drillien
I ran out of ideas after 9, so I decided to include one from my own book. Yes, I like all of my characters because I created them. But contrary to what some might think, I do have favorites. Jonathan is one of them. He becomes a good friend to the MC when she needs one most and is not afraid to call her out when she does something stupid. (See more about this book here.)

What side characters did you fall in love with? Link your own TTT post in the comments so I can see what you did with this week’s freebie!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Covers

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic today is a freebie about book covers. I’m going to keep it simple, since I’m still new to all of this keeping track of books I’ve read and want to read, and I’m definitely not ready to get detailed with a list like this. So I stuck with books that are on my Goodreads shelves and found 10 books with covers I really like for one reason or another. Here they are, in no particular order:

wingfeather

1. The Wingfeather Saga books by Andrew Peterson
If you click on the link above, you won’t see these covers. The series came out between 2009 & 2014, but the covers above are from a re-release. Those shown are the only 2 (of 4) that have new covers yet, but I’m guessing the other 2 eventually will as well. I actually do like the look of the original covers too, but it was these that first drew me to the series.
Shown here: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (read my review of this book) and North! or Be Eaten

2. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
I’ve always really liked the macabre cover to this book, which is a play about two minor characters from Hamlet. I remember reading it in high school, and then watching the movie with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth and that tennis court scene. My love of the cover might be as much nostalgia as anything, but it still counts!

3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I’ll be honest–I might be more in love with the cover of this book than the synopsis (which is interesting, don’t get me wrong), but someday I’ll have to actually read it and find out if I like it.

4. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal
I really like the way they made the cover (front and back) with a distressed look, so that it would look like it had been around since the 90s (when the book was set). (Read my review of this book.)

5. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
I had this book for over a year before I read it, and the cover always made me muse about just what was going on in that plot. The synopsis also mentions the neighbors’ house, which “defies the laws of physics.” Both are a good teaser for what’s inside the book. (Read my review of this book.)

6. Lock In by John Scalzi
It may not be the most visually appealing cover, but, like the previous book, I stared at this for a long time before I ever got around to reading it. And like with the previous book, it made me really curious about what was inside. (There’s a reason why when I started back into a heavy reading habit last year, these were some of the first books I read.) Knowing what the book is about, the cover is quite fitting. (Read my review of this book.)

7. The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels
I don’t think I have to explain why this cover appeals to me so much. If you’re viewing this post, you probably love books as much as I do, and a cover like this is just beautiful! From what I’ve read of the synopsis, it sounds like the book will be equally as wonderful for book lovers (I haven’t read it yet).

peregrine

8.  Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I only heard about this series for the first time recently, but I was able to pick up books 1 & 2 for good deals, so I plan to start into it soon. For now, though, I really like the way the author took actual vintage photographs and used them to inspire the stories, and how employing them for the covers turned out.
Shown here: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City

summoner

9. Summoner series books by Taran Matharu
I really enjoy the covers of the all of the books in this series (a trilogy of 3, plus a prequel). The trilogy covers all feature the main character, showing him decked out in whatever gear he acquired in that book, and with some iteration of his summoned demon, who was practically like a character himself. The third book is my favorite cover of the trilogy (shown on the left) for many reasons, some of which are a bit spoilery. And the prequel cover, which features a different character, I chose to also show mostly because it’s so beautifully purple.
Shown here: The Battlemage (read my review of this book) and The Outcast

colors

10. True Colors series books by various authors
Though I’ve been a bit hit-or-miss in my love for the stories themselves, I really love the covers in this series of books. I’ve read 2 of them so far, and have a 3rd coming up on my TBR. They’re all basically stand-alones (maybe a little overlap of characters) about true crime stories in history, and they all have a color in the title. Most of the covers, then, are black & white, with one item of the same color as in the title standing out (as seen in the 2 I shared above).
Shown here: The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken (read my review of this book) and The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

What book covers are you crazy about? Link your own TTT post in the comments so I can see what you did with this week’s freebie!

Book Review: The Battlemage

The Battlemage
Summoner
Trilogy #3
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

Battlemage

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the trilogy, The Novice and The Inquisition.

The Battlemage picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with the main character, Fletcher, and what’s left of his unit jumping into the otherworldy ether to escape the enemy. They must find a way to return home, and then deal with the aftermath of their mission in the jungle, which ended in treachery and betrayal. Meanwhile, the orcs are poised to invade Fletcher’s country with an army that might be too large to overcome.

This book did a great job of wrapping up the entire trilogy, while being a full story on its own. I was a lot more excited going into this one than into the 2nd one, based on the cliffhanger at the end of the previous books, and the ether didn’t disappoint. The book was more distinctly 3 separate acts than any book I’ve really ever read, and the second act was also a lot of fun to read. By the third act, I knew what was coming, and it did end up being my least favorite part of the book. But that is purely personal preference, as I’ll explain further below.

It was great to see back some of the characters from the first book, and a little from the second. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see much more of Arcturus, and overall, he wasn’t in the trilogy as much as I would have hoped and expected, especially considering that the prequel is about his history.

I enjoyed the middle act, where we really get to see Fletcher grow as a leader, and where the race warfare throughout the trilogy comes to a head, a lot more than I would have thought I would.  But I knew what was looming–the big war with the orcs. I don’t personally care for large-scale, devastating wars in books, so that’s why the third act was my least favorite. It was made better by getting to see Fletcher’s ingenuity though, plus I like the addition of the demons during the fighting.

The ending of the book had some moments I was really happy to see, but also failed to wrap up some storylines in a way I would have preferred. However, I wasn’t left with the feeling that anything was completely neglected, so I can’t really complain. For some reason, I was just left with this feeling of it being anti-climactic, but I can’t explain why. I think it’s just because I would have liked more in the series in general. Overall, this entire trilogy was a solid 4 stars for me.

After reading the first book, I described it as a mix between Harry Potter and Pokemon, even though at the time, I hadn’t read any Harry Potter. I have read the first 2 in the series now, and I stand by my assessment, but only of the first book. The second and third books could better be compared to Warcraft, or even LoTR somewhat. In general, though, I would recommend this trilogy to anyone who enjoys magical fantasy books.

Find out more about The Battlemage

See what’s coming up.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Inquisition

The Inquisition
Summoner
Trilogy #2
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

The Inquisition

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the trilogy, The Novice.

The Inquisition picks up a year after the previous story’s end, finding Fletcher in jail, where he’s been the entire year. Some life-changing events are tied up in the trial, and before we know it, Fletcher is being sent to the jungles to help lead a covert mission of rescue and destroy (not necessarily in that order). Fletcher has to work with his friends and enemies, and keep his wits about him when things aren’t what they seem.

I enjoyed this book at least as much as the first book. Fletcher’s abilities were established, and in fact had grown between books. Old friendships and rivalries came back into play, as well as some new characters to love. The species & class warfare are still involved, and in the case of species warfare, even more so.

I wasn’t super excited about the beginning of the book, knowing that Fletcher would be in jail, and that the people with all the power would make it very difficult for him to prove himself innocent. They did that and then some. Of course, I knew he’d either be exonerated or escape, because otherwise, there’d be no rest of the book. And with the end of his prison time came a big turn-around for his life.

The rest of the book, which was preparation for and executing of the covert mission into orc territory, was interesting and, at times, exciting. A few things happened that led me to notice that Fletcher, in both books, has a tendency to fall into a trope where good things happen to him simply because he’s a nice guy. Learning important information, chance encounters, unlikely allies, things like that. I am not trying to say this is a bad trope–it never bothered me when it happened, but it was a trend I noticed.

There were a few things that happened near the end that are a twist of some kind. One of them I figured out early. One I kept speculating on, and turned out to be wrong. And one, the way the book ends, in fact, I did not see coming at all. Unlike the cliffhanger from book 1 to book 2, I’m very excited to see how book 3 picks up from where this one left off.

Find out more about The Inquisition

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Novice

The Novice
Summoner
Trilogy #1
by Taran Matharu

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA Fantasy

A young blacksmith apprentice stumbles onto a magical book that he can’t resist reading from, which summons a small demon from another world. This is an ability only certain people have, which makes Fletcher special (he can also cast spells, and just to be clear, the demon is basically an otherworldly animal). Shortly thereafter, he is forced to flee his hometown and basically stumbles upon a school for summoners. There, summoners are trained to become battlemages, so they can fight in a never-ending war against orcs.

While trying to make sure I read plenty of sci-fi and fantasy books because that is the genre I write in, it’s difficult to wade through what’s out there. I’ve not read much of either genre in the past, as mystery books were my favorite genre for most of my life. I am finding that I still don’t particularly enjoy large amounts of world-building or complicated settings. I also don’t care for dark, gritty worlds, which seems to be in abundance in speculative fiction.

After setting aside a few of the books I picked out to read for various reasons, some of which is mentioned above, The Novice was a refreshing change. It is YA, which might just lend a lot to its simpler nature, but I’ll freely admit that I have always been one to enjoy things below my age level. Still, this book had clear language and a lighter world than the others I’d been presented with recently.

By halfway through the book, I described it as Harry Potter meets Pokemon, though I’ll say that the demon pet aspect didn’t end up being as pronounced as I expected it to be (I still wanted one of my own though). Throw in some elf/dwarf/orc stereotypes straight out of something like Lord of the Rings or even World of Warcraft, and you have this book. I personally enjoyed the way these elements came together.

Race and class warfare are a large part of what drives this book. This book of the trilogy focuses on the Fletcher learning about his newfound magic and training to compete in a tournament, the winner of which gains a coveted high officer spot in the nation’s military. But being part of a larger series, it’s clear that it’s being set up for bigger, more important things to come.

A few downsides I want to mention–some parts of the book are a bit predictable, but plenty of it was unexpected. The biggest issue I had was with some of the writing, especially the dialog tags. Even this is a small issue overall, but characters so often “growl” their dialog, and it started to become distracting to me. There was at least one other commonly used dialog action that was strange to me, though I don’t recall what it is now. Also, characters are often whispering into each others ears, even as they’re walking, and I’m imagining them hanging on each other while they’re talking. Again, a minor thing, but it did bring me out of the story at times.

I was very unhappy with the ending–not because it didn’t make sense or didn’t have every reason to happen. It does set up the 2nd book. But I didn’t like where it leaves the second book to start, so after enjoying the rest, I was disappointed by the ending. However, this is not a statement of bad writing or storytelling, just something I found myself disliking. I’m still looking forward to reading the next book (which I’ll come back to after reading a few other books).

What originally drew me to the book was the very first line of the jacket blurb, which said that the main character was a blacksmith apprentice. One of the main characters of my books starts out as a blacksmith apprentice, which is somewhat drawn from the fact that my own dad is a blacksmith. Though that turned out to be a small part of the book, I’m glad it got me into this trilogy.

Find out more about The Novice

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!