Title: The Legend of Black Jack
Author: A.R. Witham
Publisher: Nepenthe House (self published)
Page count: 495
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ (4.5/5)
The Legend of Black Jack is one of those middle-grade novels that defies its age category. This coming-of-age portal fantasy is absolutely brimming with adventure, action, quests and found family, and as a mid-thirty-something, I was a far cry from the book’s target audience, but that sure didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of it. The closest comparisons of tone and energy I can think of are the Japanese shonen comics I read in my teens: One Piece, Fairy Tale, HunterXHunter‚ and coincidently, a manga called Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka (of Astro Boy fame) which tells also the story of a legendary doctor, Black Jack.
But let’s not digress! There is so much to like about this story. Our orphaned hero, Jack Swift, who has an eidetic memory and dreams of becoming a doctor, is kidnapped on the night of his fourteenth birthday by a monster and taken to another world. Cue adventure, a quest, knights, demons, magic, a ragtag crew, pirates, an animal companion and a magical staff. By some feat I can’t comprehend, A.R. Withham has managed to put what feels like the entire kitchen sink of fantasy tropes into this book and not only manage to make it all work but also deliver a story that’s full of heart.
Another thing that is absolutely worth calling out is the narration of the audiobook—by the author no less. A.R. Witham knocks it out of the park. In terms of production and narration, The Legend of Black Jack is on par with the best fantasies out there.
If I were to grumble about anything, it would be the pacing felt a little off with the story shifting from one crisis to the next in very rapid succession. A lot is crammed within these pages. That said, middle-grade and YA readers will likely love this—and for the most part, I did too.
In all, if you’re in the mood for a pacey, high-octane, heart-filled magical adventure, this book should definitely be at the top of your list, no matter how old you are.
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