#NextYACraze Book Review: Tommy Black

My first #NextYACraze read for 2015, was Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, by Jake Kerr. Kerr, a music industry journalist, is also a Nebula Award nominated writer and was shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon and StorySouth Million Writers awards. Tommy Black

The book is a dense 400 pages. Don’t let that scare reluctant readers. The font is big, and the line spacing set at perhaps 1.5 inches. It reads easy, and fast.  I would also like to point out the cover illustration is wonderful, and catchy, and relevant. Now, the back cover synopsis of the story reads:

For fourteen-year-old Tommy Black, nothing is worse than being raised by an overprotective grandfather in the city that never sleeps. That is until his grandfather is captured by magical creatures and Tommy has to save him with his family’s magical staff.

That wouldn’t be so bad, but the only magic he can do with the staff is weak–making light. What the heck can you do with light?

Tommy finds out as he fights golems, shadow creatures, and djinn in a journey that features a magical river, an enchanted train, and an illusionary fortress. But the worst part of all? Tommy has to save his grandfather with the help of Naomi, a girl whose talent with magic is only rivaled by her ability to hurl insults.

Not bad, right? The book is set in the 1930’s. Once all-powerful magic is becoming less necessary thanks to strides in technology. Tommy’s grandfather walks with a cane. It is no ordinary cane. In fact, it is a magical staff that his family has been in possession for generations. It is a true object of magical power, and it is desired by many other … interested parties.

Jake KerrIn New York, Tommy and his grandfather are attacked. The grandfather is taken to Persia, while Tommy just barely escapes with the staff. The things that have Tommy’s grandfather want the staff in exchange for his return. Unfortunately, there are other people who want the staff for the power it possesses.

The suspenseful journey is just getting started as Mister Ali guides Tommy along a coming-of-age story that is full of creative mystical creatures and a few characters I hope to see together in future installments in the Tommy Black saga.

Tommy Black and the Staff of Light is an easy read. Kerr’s writing is smooth and simple, without it sounding trite or condescending. He as a skill for the craft. He also keeps the chapters taut. I basically read the book in a few sitting. Knocking off fifty to a hundred pages at a time.

The only downfall to the book is the first two hundred pages. That sounds very harsh. I do not mean it harshly. Just, when you compare the first half against the second half –there is a major difference in storytelling.

One character, Mister Ali, assists Tommy on the magical journey (magic river, enslaved trains, illusion encased compounds). His job is almost like a teacher, to help Tommy understand his new role of Archmage (keeper of the staff). I lost count of how many times he told Tommy that he had answers and important information, but in the next sentence stated that there was no time to talk, or that they could discuss everything later . . . Their journey together makes up the first few hundred pages, and while there is a lot going on, and it is FAR FROM BORING, I was not a fan of Ali. The second half of the book is when the story / action really overwhelms the reader. More developed and intriguing characters are added to the soup. There is an intensity to Naomi, and one of the evil villains, that gives the story genuine flavor, and urgency.

Jake Kerr’s book is a winner. I cannot wait until the release of the second in the series. I feel like I should have read the first book in bed, under the covers, with a flashlight. I am most definitely a Tommy Black fan! And I feel fortunate to kick off my search for the #NextYACraze with such a strong, and well written novel!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of Damn the Dead and Blood River

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