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The Summoner
Gail Z. Martin
Solaris, 637 pages

The Summoner
Gail Z. Martin
Gail Z. Martin discovered her passion for science fiction, fantasy, and ghost stories in elementary school. The first story she wrote -- at age five -- was about a vampire. Her favorite TV show as a preschooler was Dark Shadows. At age 14, she decided to become a writer. She enjoys attending science fiction/fantasy conventions, Renaissance fairs, and living history sites. She is married and has three children, a Himalayan cat, and a golden retriever. The Summoner is her first novel.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Prince Martris Drayke, second son of the king of Margolan, has always had an affinity for magic. Among other skills, he's able to see the ghosts of the dead. His talent has been cultivated by his grandmother, the famed sorceress and Summoner Bava K'aa; but Bava K'aa is years dead, and since her passing there has been no one to teach him.

Then one terrible night, Tris witnesses the murder of his parents and his younger sister Kait at the hands of his elder brother Jared, abetted by Jared's malevolent adviser, the blood mage Foor Arontala. Tris is forced to flee for his life, along with his best friends, the master bard Carroway and the pragmatic soldier Soterius. Enlisting the aid of Vahanian, a roguish guide and smuggler, they attempt to make their way north to the kingdom of Dhasson, where Tris's uncle rules. But there's more at stake than just Tris's survival. From his grandmother's ghost, Tris learns that he's her mage heir, the new Summoner, with powers far greater than he realizes -- and responsibilities much greater than he wants. For the Obsidian King, a dark magician who once tried to enslave the world, is stirring in his magical sleep, and the evil sorcerers who serve him will stop at nothing to wake him fully.

Meanwhile, Goddess-chosen Princess Kiara Sharsequin of the kingdom of Isencroft embarks on the Journey that is traditional among her people, eager not just to serve the Goddess but to discover the source of the wasting spell that afflicts her father the king. Unbeknownst to either Tris or Kiara, their quests are linked. Through many adventures and by direct intervention of the Goddess, they are brought together in a mysterious Library, which the rest of the world believes to be a myth. There, ancient secrets wait to be uncovered, and Tris must find a way to embrace his power before it's too late.

The Summoner is fantasy by the numbers, complete with a motley band of companions, a Dark Lord who wants to rule the earth for no obvious reason, a variety of evil priest-mages, a fugitive prince, an auburn-haired warrior princess, and a score of other characters, tropes, and situations familiar from popular fantasy books and films. Sometimes such material can be freshened by an unconventional plotline, an unusual setting, or strong writing; but in all these areas, the author's approach can best be described as workmanlike. Clunky and often anachronistic dialogue ("I'm festivalled out," a character says at one point), obtrusive dialogue tags (characters do a lot of grating and gritting), and grab-bag fantasy naming don't help.

Still, Gail Z. Martin has a good grasp of pacing, and tells a fast-paced tale laced with plenty of action. The medieval milieu is convincingly detailed, and the characters, if not memorable, are believable in their goals and motivations. The Lord of the Rings it's not, but if you're looking for something undemanding to while away a few hours on the beach, you could do worse.

Copyright © 2007 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Awakened City, is available from HarperCollins Eos. For more information, visit her website.

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