From the opening words of The Charlatan’s Boy, I was hooked. Grady’s voice engaged me–distinctive dialect, with a touch of humor, yet a matter-of-fact tone about the difficulties of life. In just a few paragraphs, Grady’s character and desires leapt from the page. More than anything, Grady wants a sense of belonging and an understanding of his origins–to find a place where he fits. But achieving such a goal seems impossible. For starters, he’s the “ugliest boy in the world.” And if that weren’t enough, the only man who knows the truth about his past is a professional liar and fraud. Even if he could surmount those obstacles, a charlatan’s work by nature requires a lifestyle of constant travel, often fleeing the wrath of angry townspeople. It’s hardly a recipe for finding a loving family and a place to call home.
As his story unfolds, Grady wrestles not only with his identity, but the nature of the work Floyd requires of him. He values honesty, but must live a life of deception, which only worsens as times grow lean in the charlatan trade. After several unsuccessful schemes, Floyd looks back to the good old days, when folks believed in feechies and conducting the “Wild Man of Feechiefen Swamp” act (with Grady posing as a feechie) would bring in tremendous crowds. With that in mind, Floyd concocts their biggest scam ever–The Great Feechie Scare. Returning to the feechie act brings a measure of satisfaction to Grady, but soon the scam takes on a life of its own. One misstep, and Floyd’s scheme might take them both down.
The setting in which the story unfolds is rich and vivid, drawing from real world origins, but fashioned with just the right hint of the fantastic. Unlike many fantasy novels, The Charlatan’s Boy doesn’t find its roots in ancient or medieval cultures, but rather in the swamps and wildlands of the South. I have a soft spot for Southern-flavored fiction and that merged with fantasy provides an engaging tale. I could hear the voices and stories of older relatives of mine in Grady and the people he encounters along the way, right down to the rosin-coated rope used to create a roaring machine for the Great Feechie Scare. My great-grandmother, who grew up in the Great Dismal Swamp (yes, that is a real place) told me of a similar prank her father played, which successfully scared many out of their wits. So this fantasy story gives you the sense that it might have really happened, in some hidden kingdom of the South known as Corenwald.
While written for a YA audience, this book can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The final plot twist will likely not come as a surprise (at least to those who have read Roger’s other books), but the journey contained in the pages of The Charlatan’s Boy is one to savor.
For additional opinions, see what the other tour participants have to say:
Thomas Clayton Booher
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Donita K. Paul
Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.