Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: Deadlight Jack by Mark Onspaugh

From the Pacific Northwest to the Louisiana bayou, Mark Onspaugh's latest tale begins with 4-year-old George Watters and ends with Tlingit-Inuit Shaman Jimmy Kalmaku, ghosts, revenants, and all the horrors that Professor Foxfire musters against the 70-year-old Jimmy and George. Professor Foxfire is only one of the many names of the nightmare that is Deadlight Jack who lures children away from their families to feed the swamp lights and Jack.

George Watters lost his father in World War II and then very soon after lost his grandfather. That was when Deadlight Jack first appeared to lure 4-year-old Georgie Porgie pudding and pie away from his family and into the swamps of bayou. If not for George's grandfather, George would have been lost to his mother and brother to provide a tasty meal for Jack. George's mother and his aunt got in Jack's way and, with George's grandfather, drove Jack and his green and yellow will o' the wisp lights back into the shadows. Jack would not be held off forever, not with such a one as Georgie Porgie nearly within his grasp.

Seventy-year-old George Watters is a wise-cracking, smart-mouthed jokester given to teasing Jimmy Kalmaku with every Indian reference he can remember -- and George remembers a lot. For all the ribbing and jokes, George and Jimmy are close friends. They have already defeated the Faceless One who nearly destroyed a family and dragged Jimmy and George into the abyss for good measure. Jimmy has a wild talent and is a favorite of the Trickster, Raven of Tlingit legends. Being a favorite of the gods is a heavy burden to bear, one Jimmy is used to. George is no unwelcome passenger on the journey into the darkness and neither are strangers to the unseen world. George and Jimmy are friends and comrades in arms, though neither are ready for the journey that will lead them into George's forgotten and tumultuous family troubles when George's grandson, Donny, disappears while on a camping trip in Louisiana.

Jimmy prepares to visit his son's family to celebrate his granddaughter Molly's birthday in Boston when the calls come. Donny reaches out and shatters George's dreams with his terror and fear. Jimmy is visited by Dabo Muu, another messenger from the unseen world, in a vision that sends both friends far from their home on 152nd Street. When Jimmy calls Molly to explain he will not be there for her birthday, Molly tells her grandfather he will need to help George and that she will help as she can. Molly shares the wild talent with her grandfather, unknown to her parents, and Raven has also enlisted Molly in his service.

The journey into George's past and his family troubles is no picnic, but neither is the task of finding Donny and defeating Deadlight Jack, especially when the energies that Jimmy knows best will be of little help so far from his cooler northwestern home. The real journey is still ahead as George is confronted with a past he cannot remember and a daughter who is still angry that George was never there for her.

In creating a world where two men of different backgrounds and cultures become so intimately entangled, Mark Onspaugh illuminates the good and the bad in his characters. The world George and Jimmy inhabit is as rich and complex as the Louisiana bayous where much of the action takes place. The cover of Deadlight Jack is a pleasant fantasy beside the horror and evil unleashed on an unsuspecting world going back centuries and rooted in the myths and legends of a much darker past than the average person realizes or is willing to see. All of the characters, from George's bitter eldest daughter to delightfully precocious Molly are revelations. Jimmy's shamanic heritage and George's amazing gifts are the heart of gold at the core of this dark and bloody tale of the world that marches beside the reality most people are willing and able to see. Strength and magic blossom in the most wonderful and unexpected ways. I cannot wait to read what else Onspaugh has written and has yet in store for the future of this mismatched and ultimately wonderful pair of modern wizards.

5 stars and I only with the scale went up to 10. A rich and satisfying journey that awakens an unforgettable magic in all of us to follow an unlikely pair of friends into the shadows where evil dwells.

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