In The Summoner, the dwellers of The Winter Kingdoms live with the dead. Ghosts walk freely, intervening for good and ill in the affairs of the living. A fragile truce stands between mortals and Those Who Walk the Night, the vayash moru. Restless and raging spirits have had no solace since the death of the last great Summoner, and no one to reconcile grievances between the dead, the undead and the living. Tris Drayke, the new Summoner, may die before he can come into his full power. Fleeing for his life when his family is murdered, Tris is pursued by an evil mage and haunted by malicious ghosts.
Three true friends flee with Tris when they witness the king’s murder. Three new friends, an adventurer with a dark past, a healer with a tragic secret and a swordswoman with reasons of her own, join them on the journey. Tris must outrun the usurper’s bounty hunters and find the sanctuary of a friendly court to raise an army and reclaim the throne. His greatest danger may be his own untrained magic, which he must tame in order to avenge his family, quell the restless spirits, and defeat the reborn Obsidian King.
Questions for Discussion
- The line between life and afterlife is a main theme in The Summoner. A Summoner is a mage who can intercede among the living, the dead and the undead. How often have people wished for a last conversation, a last chance to say good-bye, or the chance to make something right? How attractive would a real Summoner be to people who had lost a loved one?
- In the world of the Winter Kingdoms, the existence of ghosts in an accepted fact. Martin writes of a universe where ghosts may choose to remain among the living to watch over loved ones, advance a cause, or make mischief. Other ghosts remain against their will, bound by guilt or vengeance. How would the confirmed existence of ghosts complicate our real world? How might it simplify it?
- Most books that feature a mage with the power to speak with the dead (a necromancer) imagine the power used for evil—to control unwilling ghosts, raise zombies or cause destruction. Martin envisions an ethical choice for magic users—making it possible for her main character, Tris Drayke, to use his power to calm angry spirits, negotiate peace between aggrieved spirits and the living, and bring closure. How might such power be used for good? Be misused?
- Ghosts, zombies and vampires are often assumed to be evil because they are dead. Martin imagines ghosts and vampires who have an ethical choice, putting her at odds with popular folklore. Would merely being dead change the ethical nature of a person?
- Being a Summoner raises many ethical issues. Fictional necromancers (and necromancers in folklore) are often depicted creating zombies—animating corpses and forcing them to do one’s bidding. Tris Drayke refuses to create zombies on the grounds that it is immoral to force a living soul into a dead body. What other ethical quandaries do you imagine face a Summoner?
- The female lead, Kiara Sharsequin, flees rather than submit to an arranged marriage to a brutal man. Although arranged marriages are not favored in Western countries, they remain common elsewhere in the world. What are the pros and cons of arranged marriage?
- Under what circumstances would you want to remain or return as a ghost? Would you stay if you felt you could protect a loved one? Influence history? Keep people you love from making a mistake?
- The Summoner is the first in a series of books called The Chronicles of the Necromancer. The reader catches glimpses of elements that will be revealed more fully in future books, such as the internal society of the vampires and their ruling Blood Council. What do you think the challenges are in building a world over a series of books as opposed to creating a stand-alone story? What are the pros and cons to series?
- At the end of The Summoner, Tris Drayke faces a difficult choice. He can reluctantly accept the burden of unseating his half-brother, the usurper, or look forward to living the rest of his life in exile, fearing assassins. As the second son, Tris never wanted the crown. What would you do, faced with Tris’s choice? Is being king all it’s “cracked up” to be? What about exile? How good would the odds of success have to be for you to decide to fight? Could you take on a “hopeless” cause?
- The author sets the book in an alternative medieval setting and creates a fictional goddess-based religion to enable the reader to approach the idea of afterlife and souls outside of existing religions. Martin says she did this so that readers would focus on the story and on the questions and concepts rather than becoming embroiled in debates over dogma. Her four-faced goddess is based on many roots in folklore and myth, but not on any “real” belief system.
Can you read The Summoner as written without seeing it through the lens of your personal beliefs?
Is Martin’s “four-faced goddess” believable as a deity/religion in the book?
How would the book be different if it used an existing religion?
- Martin puts a lot of effort into connecting with readers—a blog and videoblog, her Ghost in the Machine podcast, appearances at conventions, book stores and book clubs, online events and an active web site, plus a lively presence on numerous social media sites like Squidoo, BookMarketing.ning.com, Shelfari, Amazon, MySpace, BookTours.com and Facebook. Does author promotion influence your choice of books? What makes you select one book over another? How do you learn about new books? Martin welcomes and invites reader questions, emails and forum posts, and frequently surprises bloggers by dropping by to comment. How important is it to you to personally connect with an author? What do you want to ask or know? How has technology changed our expectations of authors? Is that change good or bad?
Extra Questions for Teen Groups
- Gail started writing when she was five, and decided to be a writer when she was 14. Her first novel was published when she was 45. What do you think it would take to make you stick with a dream for that long? Do you have a dream you want badly enough to build toward it for years, even when it doesn’t seem to be happening?
- In The Summoner, Tris Drayke is 19 years old when his world falls apart. How do you think you would react in Tris’s place—to the murder of his family, the betrayal by his half-brother, becoming a fugitive and an outlaw, and discovering that you have a power or talent you never expected?
- Psychologists say that for today’s teens, tragedies such as the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings and the events on September 11, 2001 with the World Trade Towers are the touchstones of their generation. Tris Drayke lives through the massacre at the palace, and is a witness to other mass killings. How have those world events shaped your expectations for the future? How is Tris influenced by the tragedies he survives?
- Tris falls in love with Kiara, knowing that she’s officially engaged to Jared. He also knows what Jared is like. How would you handle the attraction/romance if you were Tris or Kiara?
- Although Tris comes from a family of wealth, power and privilege, he grows up as a victim of domestic violence because of his abusive brother. How is this experience likely to shape his choices if he becomes king? How might it affect him as a person? Why do you think King Bricen didn’t realize what Jared was doing? Could anyone have stopped Jared before the coup? Why or why not?