Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Summoner: Volume One in the Chronicles of the Necromancer

The Summoner (Chronicles of the Necromancer, #1)The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[Note: This review was originally written in 2007.]

I opened to the title page of The Summoner, where the author had written in my copy, "Thank you for believing." I gave her comment only cursory thought at the time, but it only took the reading of a few pages before I began to believe in Martin’s well-developed fantasy world and in her ability to lead her readers through it with an enchanting grace that obscures the fact that this is her first published novel.

This epic fantasy quest begins with a bloody and violent coup d'├ętat on "Haunts", an evening of festivities when the line that separates the living from the dead blurs and ghosts walk freely among the living. The King of Margolan and his family are slain by order of the heir to the throne, Prince Jared, and the cruel and avaricious prince seizes power. After routing those loyal to the old king, King Jared is left with one small matter remaining: Jared’s younger half-brother, Prince Martris Drayke, has survived the coup and has escaped along with a handful of trusted friends.

"Tris" and his tiny band of followers prove to be elusive and, as the young prince begins discovering the true strength of his heritage, he learns that some of his greatest allies do not dwell in the lands of the living. Tris slowly gains the knowledge and control he will need in order to master the powers of a summoner -— a necromancer. He also learns difficult lessons in the laws, limits, and responsibilities that come with such potent magical power. Meanwhile, as he continues his mission to find a means to remove his half-brother from Margolan’s throne, Tris learns that Jared may not be his most dangerous foe. Another sorcerer of great power, one of the immortal vayash moru, is allied with the Margolan usurper and is setting in motion his plan to awaken and unleash the Obsidian King, thereby plunging the world into a reign of darkness. Tris finds that he must prepare for battles of both physical and magical nature. We learn, as do the young necromancer’s allies, that their fates are deeply intertwined and all will share together in triumph or defeat.

Although one might be tempted to describe a great deal of The Summoner as standard fantasy fare, such a generalization would be a misstatement and an injustice. Martin’s work easily rises above the standard due to the care she has taken in presenting the interaction between the living, the dead, and the undead. The background and detail evident in several of these encounters suggest that they could be easily expanded into novels or novellas and, perhaps, a prequel will appear someday. For now, however, we can be thankful for this breath of new life Martin has summoned into the fantasy genre. After the first few pages, I thought the author’s greatest strengths were a knack for character development and the creation of splendid settings. I was wrong. As I progressed through the tale, I soon found myself adding to my initial list of the author’s skills, admitting gladly that Martin’s command of foreshadowing, suspense, and intricate plot development are also noteworthy. The world, the characters that populate it, the social structures, and the laws of magic are all well conceived and skillfully presented by the author. The Summoner is the first volume of what Martin calls "The Chronicles of the Necromancer" and will be continued in The Blood King, due for release in January 2008. If The Summoner is indicative of what adventures lie ahead in this series, Gail Z. Martin is certain to keep her readers entranced from page one to the finale.

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