Published by Razor Bill
Author Web site: http://www.theblacktattoo.com
Sam Enthovenís debut novel is something of a hybrid for the Young Adult market. It has the feel of a horror novel, and at the same time, reads like an Epic Fantasy. A demon, Scourge, has been unleashed from its prison, and a few young people are the last bastion of hope who can prevent it from not just overtaking the world, but of bringing all of creation to a halt. Other writers have tackled similar themes before, but is Sam Enthoven up to the task in his first novel? According to his Web site, he works in the bookselling industry, so he has an idea of what readers want.
The story here takes place in modern-day London and centers on Charlie Farnsworth, Jack Farrell and a young girl named Esme, who is a member of the Brotherhood of Sleep, an organization whose ultimate goal is to keep the demon at bay. The plot begins rather quickly, as Charlie and Jack are recruited by Esmeís brotherhood to join them in defending our world from Scourge. As Charlie goes through recruitment and training, he comes into a power unlike any he has ever imagined. He feels prepared to fight Scourge and keep Earth free of the demon. The problem; however, is that Scourge has fused with Charlie and soon bends the young man to its will. Here, Enthoven throws something of a twist into the formula, making one of the protagonists an enemy. As the novel progresses, Charlie becomes increasingly aligned with Scourge.
Meanwhile, Esme, who has trained for the entirety of her life to fight the Scourge, has some doubts about Charlie. She, understandably, canít comprehend why such a newcomer is allowed such leeway in the Brotherhood. Nor can she understand how such a newcomer has been able to harness such power so quickly. Here, Enthoven provides a better sense of character than he did for Charlie. Esmeís place in the narrative allows the reader a view into the world of the demon fighter, one who becomes ever more frustrated at the failed attempts to capture the demon, which is only complicated by the addition of the two new boys.
One of the stronger elements of Enthovenís novel is his glimpse into the Demonís world; Hell. His cosmological view of the underworld has elements of the traditional Hell, but there are also elements that seem more modern. Like the traditional Hell, Entohvenís Hell is widely populated with various demons, but unlike the traditional view there is wider hierarchy of demons. The landscape is also relatively divergent. Perhaps the most grotesque element I found was a demon whose vomit provides sustenance for those imprisoned in Hell.
When Charlie and Jack are in Hell, they are both subject to gladiatorial games, both as participants and as observers. This is somewhat reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian and Gladiator, and has become something of a trope in the genre at this point. The penalty for losing is death in this arena, but of course when Jack lost, he was returned to life.
As for the writing itself, the narrative moves along easily at points and there were some twists to an otherwise predictable plot. However, I felt Enthoven tended to prolong scenes more often and as a result, interrupted the flow of the narrative. I thought Enthoven could have done more with the relationship between Charlie and Scourge, there was opportunity for a better examination of power and destruction, but Charlie became an annoying puppet of the demon. I also felt there were no real consequences for Charlieís actions and no lasting effects of other calamitous events early in the novel? In fact, the only character who truly suffered throughout the book was Scourge, but of course, traditionally thatís okay, because heís eeevil.
What began with an interesting premise ultimately fell flat in the execution and conclusion of the novel. I thought Enthoven showed some promise of what he can be as a writer, but with The Black Tattoo, it is a promise unfulfilled.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford
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