The Charlatan's Boy: A Novel
It’s sometimes hard to find a decent, thorough, self-contained fantasy novel, but The Charlatan’s Boy manages to accomplish all that and more. In a sea of books built to be trilogies or sagas, this one little book shines with its straightforward story and a beautifully rendered world.
Related as a sort of side story to Rogers’ Wilderking Trilogy, the book is the story of Grady, a very ugly boy who works with a huckster named Floyd. Grady has been told all his life that he was a real he-feechie—a sort of mix between a swamp troll, an aboriginal people, and an ape.
Grady grows up portraying a feechie on stage all over the country, until the feechie trade fails and people decide they’re only a myth—and therefore not worth paying to see, since what you’ll see can only be a rip off.
The first half of the story establishes a rich and varied world on the island nation Corenwald that seems to be off the coast of the U.S. South, a sort of wild west with lots of small towns, drovers and cattle drives, school marms and a vast array of other hucksters. It also sets up how Grady feels about the world and his place in it, establishing what happens to people who are left without a way to pay their bills when they’ve only ever done one thing. The second half of The Charlatan’s Boy covers them setting out to revive the trade that they do best, and tells how they start a feechie scare and what comes of it.
The book is charming—beginning to end. The Charlatan’s Boy reads like a simple story but actually holds a lot of information and a clear view of how its world works. Grady is as honest as he can be in his line of work, and even when he’s being dishonest, he sticks to his own form of integrity. This makes him more believable as a character. The entire book is written in dialect in exactly the way it needs to be: with just a scattering of unfamiliar words and with consistent usage of nontraditional spelling, while explaining things in a naturalistic way so the language never feels artificial or too bizarre, but more like a really great story told by a friend from a different country.
And what a story it is! Rich, a little funny, often sad or tense, and adventurous in the vein of a modern day version of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—adding a semi-Victorian flair for some spice. Readers understand that certain parts are exaggerated for effect, but even then, these parts feel believable and fit the world the author has created. Plus, the old-fashioned showman style of a lot of the telling is perfectly suited for a coming-of-age story set on the show circuit like this book is.
This is one of those rare books that could appeal to people of a wide variety of ages and tastes. The Charlatan’s Boy deserves the attention. Sharp, clever, and entertaining, this reviewer can only hope it will inspire a new wave of more charming, standalone fantasy books!