Fletcher is a young orphan living in the secluded mountain town of Pelt, a small town in the kingdom of Hominum. Found outside the town gates in the freezing dead of winter , he is taken in by the town blacksmith. Because he is the protagonist in a YA novel, he is bullied by the wealthy teenagers in the town, so life has not been easy for Fletcher. When a old soldier who has been deemed too old to continue fighting the Orcs passes through Pelt on his way to fight the Elves, he gives Fletcher a book he claims belonged to a summoner, a magician who can summon demons and use them for battle. Fletcher is intrigued, sneaks out at night, and reads a spell from the book. He is sure he has no magical talent (of course) but discovers he DOES have magical talent (of course) when a small demon answers his summons. The wealthy bully has coincidentally chosen this night to follow Fletcher out of town and murder him. Fletcher’s new friend the demon takes this badly, attacks The Bully, and Fletcher is forced to flee the town before anyone finds out. He heads towards the capital of Hominum and Vocans, an academy where teens with an affinity for magic and demon-summoning are trained to fight the Orcs. Fletcher makes friends and enemies, learns quite a bit about politics and world history, learns how to use his magic, and struggles to earn a commission into the army to fight in the on-going Orc war.
Overall I thought this was a good book. The world-building was impressive, with at least a 2,000-year history that effected and mattered to the present. The system of magic was particularly interesting, and the way the author chose to give us the “rules” and information about the system of magic really sold the story. Combined, these aspects of the novel made an otherwise fairly formulaic plot and shallow villains work. The questions I have about the next book mostly involve the way the Orcs, enemies of all the other races, use their magic. Not all the humans can use magic–most of the magic users are nobles, due to the complicated way the bloodlines are mixed. Only one elf and one dwarf have magic and therefore a demon. There are quite a bit of difficult politics – dwarves are repressed, but are also the only race that can make guns. Sometimes the elves and humans get along to fight the Orcs, sometimes not. While Fletcher’s story was interesting, and of course you root for him and want to see him succeed, its really all these political battles and questions about the Orc magic that have me wanting to read the next book.
Almost forgot to mention, no love story!! Woohoo!! I’m not saying there aren’t YA high fantasy books out there that have good love stories. See Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series for a good example of the right way to write YA Romance in a high fantasy series. After reading so many YA books that are almost completely based on a teenaged-love-triangle and everything else is an afterthought, its always refreshing to read YA lit with no romance whatsoever. This one had no romance AND a successful plot. Way to go, Taran Matharu!
Now for the things I didn’t like so much about the book. One of Fletcher’s teachers, named Rook, absolutely hated Fletcher. This has something to do with Fletcher’s suspected parentage, but we hardly know anything about Rook and his reasons for disliking Fletcher are not serious enough to warrant how horribly he treats him. His character reminded me a bit of Professor Snape – but rather than hating him, I was just annoyed by him. I did not think Rook’s hatred was necessary to advance the plot, and I wonder if his character will become more clear in the next novel.
I would have liked this book to be at least 50 pages longer, with less big jumps in time, skipping several months at a time. I wanted more history and more details of Fletcher’s life. I wouldn’t have minded the book being longer in order to get more detailed character analysis and background. It does make me more excited for the next book though, The Inquisition. Hopefully I will be able to get it from my library soon. The novel has quite the online fandom. There’s some gorgeous fan art out there – I didn’t want to share it from Pinterest without giving credit to the artists, but I highly suggest going to Pinterest and looking for it.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for those who enjoy YA high fantasy. I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.