I received a review copy of The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers from Blogging for Books (WaterBrook Multnomah Press). I was intrigued by the name, the cover, and the premise, and I looked forward to reading it. It had a charming fantasy plot hook, as well as quirky characters and an innocent tone. I enjoyed it, but wish I could say that I enjoyed it more.
The story centers around Grady, an orphan, and the medicine showman, Floyd, who takes him in. As the pair travel about their country of Corenwald, Floyd exploits Grady as a way of providing for himself and for the boy. The two use Grady's physical unattractiveness to promote him first as one of the scary swamp people, the Feechees and, later, when people don't believe in the Feechees anymore, as the ugliest boy in the world. All the while, Grady suffers from not knowing exactly who he is or where he came from. Grady's plot arc revolves around the question of his true identity and the need to find home and acceptance.
So far, so good. That plot hook certainly whetted my interest. For some reason that I can't put my finger on, I felt that the plot didn't live up to its potential. For me, the book lagged in several places. Also, I felt that the fictional setting pulled from too many influences. It felt like an odd mix of Georgia (my home state), the old American west, and Cornwall in England. I do think all of those influences could unite in a fantasy world. In this book, however, some of the details conjured up one setting in my mind and other details, another, and I found it hard to stay oriented in the author's intended world. For me, the setting kept getting in the way of the characters and of the plot.
I am a grandmother who still enjoys reading the best of books for children and teens. I'm not in the target audience for the book, however. So, just because it dragged for me doesn't mean that a young child, particularly a boy, might not think it's a thrilling read.
I've noticed that the author has written a trilogy that some reviewers seem to enjoy more than the Charlatan's Boy. I thought enough of the Charlatan's Boy to take a chance on reading the trilogy. I do think that the author has talent and creativity, and I can easily imagine that he either already has or will pen a treasure of a book. For me, the Charlatan's Boy is close, but not quite it.
Just a note: The book does deal with questions of belonging and identity and somewhat with faith, but not in a particularly Christian framework. It also deals with the theme of a person's value not being dependent on his outward appearance, which is an important subject in today's culture. I think the author was trying to hint at Christian spirituality without being overt. If so, it seems to me that he overshot the mark, moving right past subtlety to hard-to-find. I don't think that means that the Charlatan's Boy isn't worth a read. I mention this only because buyers might see the Multnomah label and might expect the book to be more evocative of Biblical themes than it is.