The Legend of Black Jack

Book Reviews / Thursday, May 26th, 2022

By: A.R. Witham
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Nepenthe House (Self Published)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content/Trigger Warnings:
Shown on page
: Child Abuse (foster mom hits main character); Child Abduction (main character kidnapped by monster)
Alluded to: Child Neglect (foster mom ignores her wards)

“A boy is best seen through his father’s eyes.
He is beautiful, and seven.
Sun-kissed hair lashes in the wind, crazy freckles splay across that baby nose, skinny legs pound across the desert like the whole world is an obstacle course created just for him. That’s what Dr. Alex Swift sees he as comes over the ridge: his son.” A.R. Witham, The Legend of Black Jack

The Legend of Black Jack, A.R. Witham’s debut novel, is truly a unique and action filled addition to the YA Fantasy genre. The main protagonist is Jack Swift, a young, relatable and reluctant hero. Orphaned as a young boy when his father is killed in an accident, which he blames himself for, he enters the foster care system, where he is not treated kindly. Jack still reads endlessly, memorizing everything, hoping against hope, that one day he will be a doctor. The evening he turns fourteen, in one crazy night, he is taken to Keymark, an alternate world with unusual beings, knights, fight training schools, and magic. Jack is taken by a rhinoceros, but not really a rhinoceros as he hates to be called one. He is a magical creature called Memphis. In an unusual twist in YA fantasy, Jack has no magical powers, but is incredibly smart and resourceful. All in Keymark believe he is Black Jack, a fabled hero. It is truly a wonderful story of Jack’s journey through Keymark, gaining friends and followers along the way, as he ultimately finds his path to become Black Jack, the wielder of the spear, Nepenthe. There is an Asian feel to Keymark in the names of the characters and the structures found there, which is also a refreshing change in YA fantasy in terms of world building. Part of the story takes place in Chicago and then it moves to Keymark. Mr. Witham expertly addresses Jack’s feelings of guilt, shame, fear and weakness over the death of his father, as he faces each one and realizes he must let go of them, and once he does, he is able to become Black Jack. I really enjoyed The Legend of Black Jack. It’s not only a wonderful, exciting story, but with Jack being so relatable, it also delves into difficult feelings that young people can relate too, and how they can be overcome.

I loved the world of Keymark that Mr. Witham created. Its beautiful Asian feel allows the reader to get lost in a wonder of beautiful waterfalls, gardens, cherry blossoms, bamboo forests, and cool breezes coming off the sea. It was wonderfully done as a stark contrast to the foster home in Chicago where Jack lived. All of Keymark is not beautiful. There is the dark side where daemons dwell, and they hunt for Jack. It is a perfect dark creation.

There were so many amazing characters in The Legend of Blackjack. Jack, the main protagonist, is so endearing. He is a perfect character for YA readers, as his struggles are relatable, and his adventures are exciting. Memphis, the rhinoceros, not-rhinoceros, is funny and, frankly, adorable. He is always hungry and happy. Valerian Tsai, the Border Knight who guards one of the portals to Keymark, is wise, steadfast, and helps to guide Jack to he is to become. There crocodile men, women warriors, minotaurs, cat-people, elves and daemons. All of these wondrous characters were woven into this magical story of Black Jack.

Overall Thoughts

The Legend of Black Jack is an imaginative debut YA fantasy by A.R. Witham. With a relatable main protagonist in Jack Swift, readers of YA fantasy are sure to add this to their list of favorite fantasy books. The twist that Jack has no magical powers works so well and makes the story unique. Without magic, Jack embarks on a journey to save Keymark, the world he has been taken too. In doing so, he discovers who he is, embraces his strengths and weaknesses, and becomes the hero Black Jack. The supporting cast of characters, from knights, to crocodile men, cat-people, minotaurs, and so much more, add to the enchantment of this fantasy. Keymark is described so vividly, with beautiful flora and fauna, it transports the reader into this magical world. The story itself is exciting and action-packed, from the time Jack is transported to Keymark to the very end of the story. The Legend of Black Jack is a marvelous YA fantasy that will have readers wanting more of the story of Jack Swift. I highly recommend it, not just for YA readers, but for all readers.

Summary (from Escapist Tours)
Thrilling fantasy adventure debut from Emmy-winner A. R. Witham.

Jack Swift can tell you every element on the periodic table, recite Treasure Island verbatim, and would remember in perfect detail every word you’d ever say to him. He has been alone for a long time, so he has buried himself in books, using them to plan his escape.    

But no textbook could ever prepare him for the land of Keymark.

At 3:33 a.m. on his fourteenth birthday, Jack is kidnapped by a hideous monster to another sphere of existence. Now there are two moons in the sky, and he is surrounded by grotesque creatures and magical warriors training for battle. They want the impossible: Jack must use his abilities to save a life or be trapped in this bizarre world with no chance of rescue.

Jack doesn’t have secret magic, a great destiny, or any experience.

So why do they all expect him to become a legend?.

My thanks to Escapist Tours me with and eBook.

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