From debut author Barr comes an urban-fantasy novel about an adolescent boy on the cusp of mysterious change and the strange town within which he seeks refuge.
As a young man in Chicago, Conor shares an apartment with his mother: “They weren’t well off, but they weren’t dirt poor either.” The boy is handy with a tin whistle and makes a little extra money playing in a local Irish bar as his mother slowly dies of cancer. One night, he meets a stranger who informs him that he, Conor, is one of the “Dark ones.” Without supplying any further details, the stranger then proceeds to bite Conor on the hand and vanish into the Chicago River. Afterward, a series of events, including the death of Conor’s mother and a letter from an obscure aunt, brings the boy to the small town of Tinker’s Grove, Wisconsin. Arriving with a severe fever, he’s soon whisked to the local monastery with the aid of friendly townspeople, who have a chocolate Labrador retriever named Troubles. As the man in charge of the monastery explains to the local physician, Brother Luke, “What ails this boy is beyond the power of your medicine.” After a bizarre occurrence involving wild animals, a swirling fog, and an Indian burial mound, Conor recovers from his illness, but he’s never quite the same. The novel expands to include a complex affair that involves the river-dwelling creature Piasa, “the Devourer of Souls,” and ancient beliefs, showing that a lot can happen in a seemingly quaint little Midwestern town. Full of folklore and charm, the story is an inviting mix of the fantastic, the innocent, and the altogether sinister. Readers are unlikely to forget the ever-present Troubles, to whom Conor remarks later in the book, “wherever we are is different from where we’ve been.” The book does hit its share of speed bumps, though, as it’s dotted with flat declarations (“Don’t you see, Conor has to accept who he is,” one character explains, rather obviously). All in all, however, the book avoids the clichés of the genre while providing a swift, spiraling journey.
A novel entry into the world of teenage fantasy that ultimately unfolds into a truly epic saga.