This homage to the kids’ dark fantasy movies and series of the 1980s is perfect for what it is, and perhaps even better than it has any business being.
Jack Corman wants nothing to do with The Shadow Glass, the cult puppet movie created by his father Bob in the 80s. TSG bombed at the box office but quickly became a fan favorite, earning Bob a constant spot on the convention scene. Without enough capital to film a sequel, however, Bob wrote and published a graphic novel focused on TSG’s setting of the land of Iri instead. A public burning of the comic by a disgruntled segment of the fandom broke Bob’s heart, tipping him over the edge into a self-destructive alcoholism that found him constantly making a fool of himself in public and, worse, lashing out at his only child.
Because of this, Jack’s once pure and shining childhood love for Iri and TSG began to wither and sour. As an adult, Jack wants only distance from the property that he believes his dad chose over him, even when a contrite Bob finally reaches out to make amends. Jack is too busy fending off creditors and unemployment to pay attention, so is stricken when Bob dies and a key to the reclusive puppeteer’s attic studio arrives in the mail as part of his inheritance.
He’s not so stricken, however, so as not to arrange for the sale of one of the actual, if not the most important of the puppets used in the filming of TSG. The movie’s hero Dune is a kettu, a fox-like creature from an honorable warrior culture. Selling Dune’s carefully preserved puppet form will clear Jack’s debts and give him some breathing room as he searches for a new job. But before he can do any of that, a series of weird events — including being accosted by an eager fan boy named Toby, an accidental concussion and the onset of a sudden storm — lead Jack to question his sanity when several of the other puppets in his dad’s studio seem to come alive, including Zavanna, the kettu who is Dune’s sister. She insists Jack assist her and her mate Brol in tracking down the four pieces of the Shadow Glass in order to protect Iri from domination by the all-consuming skalion and their greed-driven queen, Kunin Yillda.
Jack is sure he’s hallucinating, but with Toby there confirming that this is all actually happening, Jack decides to just go along for the ride. Perhaps, he hopes, this is all an elaborate posthumous hoax dreamed up by his father. But as things get simultaneously more real and more bizarre, he has to start wondering whether his dad wasn’t just a raving alcoholic and whether Bob’s insistence that Iri actually exists was the whole truth all along.
This loving tribute to films like Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story and Labyrinth simultaneously hit all the 80s kids’ nostalgia sweet spots while updating that specific milieu for 21st century fan culture. Some of Jack’s emotional epiphanies come more easily than others, but otherwise this is a fully realized imagining of what it’s like to re-embrace a childhood of wonder after becoming perhaps a not great adult. I really enjoyed the relationships between the found family Jack builds in these pages, as well as the fully realized realm of Iri. The little notes between chapters were also really well done, imparting flavor and lore in very grounding 21st century ways.
This isn’t a perfect book — I’m usually pretty oblivious to things that arouse accusations of fat-phobia from others but felt that this book did verge on it with several of the descriptions of Kunin Yillda — but it’s really great as a recreation of 80s fantasy and contemporary fan culture. Highly recommended for anyone with interest in either subject.
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The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning was published March 22 2022 by Titan Books and is available from all good booksellers, including