In Greenway’s young-adult debut, a South African student learns of rough times ahead from an evil native god, but the boy has powerful spirit-friends to help him.
This tale of magic at a boarding school in no way resembles the adventures of a certain boy wizard with a lightning scar on his forehead. Tristan Jones is a modern-day South African lad enrolled at St. Michael’s, a venerable institution that’s also haunted, because of its proximity to bloody Zulu battlefields of yore. Tristan is “in tune with the supernatural” and can see paranormal entities, including the hideous shape-shifting Tnanabawana, the supreme God of Evil, who pops out of a cupboard and threatens danger in Tristan’s future. Before starting his new school term, Tristan meets a native shaman who gives the boy a friendly but formidable array of tribal spirits, ogres and elves to help him in emergencies. In loose chapters (often festooned with exclamation points), Tristan summons the entities to help deal with school bullies and a venomous snake, to win a rugby match and, finally, to help find a legendary treasure lost in the days of the Boer War, also coveted by a vengeful witch-ghost. Author Greenway, a headmaster in Randburg, South Africa, offers a helpful bibliography for the book’s offbeat mix of African folklore, demigods and nature observations; however, his story leaps straight into the action with very little background or exposition about South Africa. The straightforward exoticism is intriguing, and Blaauw’s black-and-white illustrations add to the fun, but young readers more familiar with Narnia than Johannesburg may be blindsided by the many undefined Afrikaans words (“braai,” “assegai,” “boet,” “yebo” and so on).
An atypical YA journey into South African culture, featuring rowdy, supernatural shenanigans.