The Summoner’s Handbook: A Fantasy Companion for a Diverse World

The Summoner’s Handbook finishes off Taran Matharu’s debut fantasy series with an illustrated look at a world that reflects our own.

Just in time for Halloween, Taran Matharu, author of the demon-centric Summoner series, has one last companion book to share with readers who have enjoyed his trilogy of fantasy books that tell the tale of young Fletcher, who at the start of the series accidentally summons a demon and then goes to a magical military academy where he learns to control his powers. For those who have enjoyed The Novice, The Inquisition, The Battlemage, and The Outcast prequel, The Summoner’s Handbook brings fans an illustrated look at this diverse world that’s both familiar and wholly unique.

For those not familiar with Matharu’s path to fantasy notoriety, he started the Summoner series during 2013’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a national challenge to write 50,000 words in a single month each November. “Wattpad, which is often described as the YouTube of books, is where I decided to share my work as I was writing it to get encouragement, and to my surprise the book went viral very quickly,” Matharu says. “It was read 3 million times in less than six months, just on the sample alone… but it was that that allowed me to get the interest from publishers around the world and eventually get a book deal.”

The Summoner series follows Fletcher, an unconventional summoner, on his path to becoming a Battlemage at which point he will fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against the orcs of the southern jungles. As that description makes clear, the series enjoys surprisingly apt but far from derivative comparisons to familiar franchises like Pokemon, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings.

Matharu embraces these familiar elements in the full confidence that his work has differences that give it a separate identity. “[Fletcher] summons a demon, and that’s very much where the Pokemon comes from, this idea of being able to summon creatures to fight alongside you. They’re kind of your pets and companions, you name them, they have different levels,” he says. “Then there’s the magical military academy which is where some of the Harry Potter vibes come from, although it’s not exactly like Hogwarts. It’s much more focused on the military side of things.”

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As for The Lord of the Rings, what fantasy novel hasn’t dabbled in their own versions of Tolkien’s elves, dwarves, and orcs? “It’s very much a world populated by multiple fantasy races… but I put my own twist on these different races,” Matharu assures us. “For example, the orcs are very much modeled on the Aztecs; they ride rhinos, and their smaller counterparts, the goblins, are kind of their allies — they ride cassowaries. So it’s kind of a strange mix, but it’s very much Aztec-inspired… and also there’s a lot of epic battles, which The Lord of the Rings, at least the film trilogy, is well known for.”

Another unique aspect of Matharu’s view of fantasy races is that the elves and dwarves experience discrimination at the hands of humans, which feels relevant in our own divided society. “Sometimes people struggle to understand racism or look at it objectively because it comes packaged with so much in the real world,” Matharu explains. “What’s great about writing racism into a fantasy series is that you take all that away. It holds up a mirror to our own society, and you get to see it in a slightly different light… There’s certainly racism in our real world, so imagine a world where cultures are even more different! It’s not just different races; effectively, they’re different species!”

Part of this focus may have come from Matharu’s own struggle as a young reader from Indian and Brazilian parentage to find characters that reflected his own culture. “I always wanted to see myself in books, and that’s part of the reason I started writing. Every single character that I wrote had dark hair and olive skin and often would have my name or some kind of anagram of my name… Now, diversity in children’s and teen and young adult books is growing! We’re on our way! There’s more and more diversity in terms of ability, in terms of race, in terms of sexual orientation; all those things are growing.”

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The journal format of The Summoner’s Handbook allows fans to continue exploring the world of the Hominum Empire even though Fletcher’s story has come to a close. “In the first book, Fletcher, the main character in The Novice, is gifted a book by a traveling salesman, and that book turns out to be James Baker’s journal. James Baker was once a summoner… and this journal, you only ever get to see snippets of it before it’s taken from Fletcher by the librarian of Vocans Academy, which is the school that he goes to… She keeps it in the library, and Fletcher doesn’t really see it again. But it’s this book that sets Fletcher on his journey, and it teaches him a lot about how to be a summoner. So it’s very cool to actually re-create that book and publish it.”

Matharu’s will soon trade in his fantasy roots for a science fiction premise in his next project, the Contender series, which begins with Book 1: The Chosen, but fans shouldn’t worry that it will be too much of a departure from the style they’ve come to enjoy. “There’s sword fights and that kind of stuff, just like the Summoner series, so it’s not laser guns and spaceships, so hopefully, they’ll get on with it,” Matharu says. “It’s difficult to transition to a new series especially when so many people have enjoyed your previous one, but it’s a series I’ve been dreaming of writing for such a long time. I can’t wait for everyone to read it and see why I’ve moved on.”

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The Chosen follows a group of juvenile delinquents who find themselves suddenly transported to another world that is populated by relics from history and prehistoric creatures, and they have no idea how they got there or why. “It’s a little bit like The Maze Runner in many ways where you’re not sure why you’re there or how, and it’s also like Jurassic World where there’s lots of different time periods. And it’s also perhaps a little bit like The 100 in that it’s a group of teenagers who are placed in a new environment and have to survive together even though they have some sort of criminal elements to them.”

With that enticing description, Matharu seems poised to have another hit on his hands when The Chosen hits bookshelves in May of 2019. In the meantime, The Summoner’s Handbook came out on October 2, 2018, and is available in multiple formats on Amazon and elsewhere.

Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter.