The Novice by Taran Matharu
Reviewed by Adrienne
The Novice is a story that takes place in the fictional land of Hominum, a place full of fantasy creatures such as elves, dwarves, and orcs, as well as humans. In Hominum, the main protectors against threats, such as orcs, are people called battlemages. These people have the ability to summon demons from another world and harness their powers. The story centers around a young boy, Fletcher, who lives in the small northern town of Pelt. Left in the snow as a boy and adopted by a blacksmith, Fletcher has no knowledge of his origins. One day, when a traveler brings an old notebook of one of the battlemages on the front lines of the war, Fletcher’s life is turned upside down. He discovers that he has the gift to summon and control demons when he summons a rare demon called a salamander using an orc summoning scroll he finds in the back of the notebook. Things go awry from there as the town leader’s son, Dedric, follows him with his two bodyguards and attempts to kill him as revenge for Fletcher embarrassing him earlier. Not knowing how to command the new demon under his control, the salamander reacts to Fletcher’s emotions and harshly burns Dedric. Fletcher is forced to flee the town he grew up in and goes to the only place he knows he can, Vocans, an academy where kids who are gifted with the ability are taught to summon. Going from a small town to a big city, Fletcher learns more about the race tensions in the country of Hominum; especially once he meets Sylvia and Othello, an elf and dwarf respectively, who are meant to induce peace among the races and ease racial tensions. Through his time at Vocans, Fletcher becomes caught in the middle of all the class and racial tensions, having to deal with nobles looking down on him because of his commoner status and his budding friendships with those of different races.
I thought this was a very interesting read, and it definitely was reminiscent of books like The Lord of the Rings. The book touches on the two very important and controversial topics of class divisions and racism. Throughout the book you see a huge divide between the lives of the nobles and those of the commoners. Commoners are often mistreated by both the political and justice systems, which the nobles run. How much power one holds in this universe is completely reliant on one’s lineage as supposed to anything they accomplish on their own. This theme is also shown in the racism that the humans in the novel have for other races. Because Fletcher is friendlier with the dwarf Othello in the novel as supposed to Sylvia, the elf, readers are keener on mistreatment the dwarves receive. Being the only other race to live alongside humans, the kingdom has enacted many laws to keep them in check. For example, there is a limit on the amount of children dwarf families can have and dwarves are limited to live in one section of the city. Throughout the book, readers are introduced to police brutality against dwarves and elves. This is something the book did very well, in my opinion. The Novice succeeded in being more than a simple fantasy adventure novel by touching on these social issues.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend The Novice to anyone who is a fan of fantasy novels. It was fun and enjoyable to read, and so suspenseful at times that it was hard to put down. Matharu did a fantastic job at fleshing out the world we as readers are experiencing and balancing fun and humor with darker issues.