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The Summoner: Book One in the Chronicles of the Necromancer    by Gail Z. Martin order for
by Gail Z. Martin
Order:  USA  Can
Solaris, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Martris 'Tris' Drayke is the second son of King Bricen of Margolan. Since childhood he's been continually bullied by his vicious elder half-brother Jared and has tried hard to protect his younger sister Kait from similar abuse. The King will not listen to complaints about his spoiled heir, who has brought his own dark mage, Foor Arontala, to court, and has also ingratiated himself with the younger guardsmen and the newer nobility.

This first episode in the Chronicles of the Necromancer opens with a warning from a ghost on the Feast of the Departed, as Tris enters the rooms of his grandmother, renowned sorceress Bava K'aa, and tries to contact her spirit. He wonders about the absence of the protective palace ghosts and suspects his brother and the mage have been up to something. After a prophetic warning from a seer, a reckless climb confirms his suspicions. Tris descends to discover that his parents have been killed - his sister dies in his arms.

His friends - captain of the guard Ban Soterius, guardsman Harrtuck and bard Carroway - force him to flee to fight another day. They decide to travel north to Dhasson, where Tris's uncle rules. Harrtuck suggests that they enlist his old friend, talented smuggler Jonmarc Vahanian, as a guide. En route, Tris discovers that he's his grandmother's secret mage heir, a Summoner who can communicate with ghosts, make them visible, and free their spirits. Bava K'aa appears and warns Tris that Arontala seeks to free the Obsidian King, and that only he can stop this great evil from being unleashed upon the world once more.

In a parallel plot strand we meet Kiara, martial princess of Isencroft, who's unwillingly betrothed to Jared and doing everything in her power to delay their union, especially since she suspects that Arontala's behind her father's wasting illness. Kiara's cousin Carina, a healer, and Carina's twin Cam have been sent to seek a cure. Soon, Kiara embarks on her solitary Journey, a tradition of her people, hoping to find help for her father and his realm. Of course, these travelers all eventually come together in an alliance - spiced with romance - against their joint enemy.

There are a few too many deus ex machina interventions by gods and magical talismans for my taste, and the characters don't have much depth - though Vahanian and his adversarial interactions with healer Carina reminded me of engaging interstellar smuggler Han Solo. But the strength of this otherwise typical quest fantasy lies in its fast-paced action. Our heroes' party is constantly attacked by both men and monsters, and aided - though often to their own peril - by ghosts. It's the ongoing adventure that holds the reader's interest.

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