Fantasy readers craving a good quest with an interesting cast of characters will find page-turning fun in Gail Z. Martin’s The Summoner. The hero of the story is the Prince of Marjolan, Martris Drayke, a second son of the king content not to inherit his father’s throne. But Martris, who goes by the short name Tris, lives in fear of his elder half brother Jared, who is a wholly reprehensible person. A violent womanizer and abuser of people in general, Jared unleashes a vicious coup at the opening of the book in which he kills his father and Tris’s mother and sister. Tris barely escapes with his life along with a loyal guard captain, a bard, and man-at-arms.
With supernatural help and Tris’s ability to communicate with and control spirits — powers he inherited from his sorceress grandmother — they escape into the countryside. Fugitives now, Tris and his companions journey toward an adjoining kingdom to seek refuge and aid. They hire a notorious but skilled mercenary and smuggler named Vahanian to help them. While surviving various dangers, Tris learns more about his powers and realizes that he is a Summoner who can, among other things, call spirits and help them cross into the afterlife.
As the new King of Marjolan, Jared desperately wants Tris dead and sends soldiers and bounty hunters after him. Swords and spears are not all Tris has to dodge because Jared is allied with the sinister mage Arontala who blocks Tris’s escape with a spell that summons magical beasts. Arontala is also imprisoning the soul of Tris’s sister, and Tris longs to set her free.
As the story progresses the character of Kiara, Princess of Isencroft, is introduced. Years earlier she had been betrothed to Jared, but now she naturally despises the thought of wedding him. To weaken her kingdom and force her to seek Jared’s protection, Arontala has cast a spell on Kiara’s father and afflicted him with a wasting sickness that can only be cured by Arontala’s death that will break the spell. Hoping to find a cure for her father, Kiara embarks on a journey recommended by a religious sisterhood. On this journey she inevitably meets Tris and romance blossoms along with an alliance to destroy Jared and Arontala.
The strengths of this book are its good pace, realistic action, pleasing use of supernatural and magical elements, and a tight plot. The action does not lag and the story progresses comfortably. The fight scenes are exciting and plausible, meaning that the characters are not surviving against impossible odds. Their wins make sense and when they get captured it makes sense. For example, the chapters in which Tris and company are traveling with a merchant caravan and suffer attacks from bandits and slavers are some of the best in the book. In regards to the fantasy elements, Martin is good at using familiar horror devices like ghosts and vampires in pleasing ways. Several times Tris has to cope with angry spirits that are haunting their respective vicinities, and he sometimes employs the powers of the spirits against his enemies. Also a race of vampires inhabits the land. The plot is clear and motivates the characters properly, and Martin never leaves a reader wondering what is going on.
The weaknesses of the book, however, keep it from being top shelf literature. The dialogue is lame and comes across as if it was generated by software that harvests lines from bad movies. Then there is the overuse of chapters ending with Tris going to sleep or passing out and then the next chapter starting with him waking up. Yes, it is fine to use this segue sometimes, but it is a persistent crutch throughout this narrative for closing and opening chapters. Finally, some of the scenes felt lifted directly from Star Wars, especially the parts with Vahanian and his love interest. A good portion of the finale of the book was definitely sewn from a Star Wars pattern too.
Altogether, The Summoner is a fantasy book that provides readers with adequately interesting popcorn style entertainment. It has well paced quest action and adventure that does not allow the reader to get bored within a competently constructed narrative. I rate it three swords and a chastity belt because there are no hot love scenes.