THE SHADOW GLASS by Josh Winning (BOOK REVIEW)
“One Kettu is worth a thousand armies, if she has courage deep and blade sharp.”
The Shadow Glass is the remarkable upcoming novel by Josh Winning. To share his love for the golden age decade which brought us fantasy films featuring puppets on high-stake quests, Winning delivers an 80’s nostalgic revival tale which will have you longing to crack out those VHS tapes and become lost in an era of magic, adventure and escapism.
Back in 1986 a film by Bob Cormac was created, The Shadow Glass was born and released into the world only to become a flop at the cinema. This film had been Bob’s lifelong dream, a passion, an obsession, and it’s failure had left him broken. Yet the film did eventually find its audience and so it transformed into a ‘cult puppet masterpiece’ among its fan base. Much to his son Jack Cormac’s dismay, his father became a hero to these people, whilst beneath the surface their relationship became estranged.
The Shadow Glass opens with our main protagonist Jack returning to his childhood home some time after his father had passed away. When Jack returns to Bob’s house it is with much resentment and reluctance, but what he finds forever changes the course of his life. The puppets from the movie are alive, Iri, the world they live in, is on the brink of destruction and the only one who can help save it is Jack. Unfortunately Jack doesn’t believe any of this is real, but with the help of an excitable teenage fanboy, a group of quirky Shadow Glass guild members, and a short tempered studio executive cousin, they band together to conquer the impossible. Iri must be saved, the puppets must return to their world, and Jack must finally confront his past.
Each chapter begins with different excerpts from film reviews, to transcripts of YouTube Videos, script segments from The Shadow Glass screenplay, magazines articles, or interviews with Bob Cormac. Through these Winning builds a picture of The Shadow Glass, a story centred around the hero kettu, a fox-like puppet called Dune, who saves the land of Iri from the clutches of the amphibian-like skalion race and their evil queen, Kunin Yillda, who the Kettu’s have been in conflict with for centuries. From these extracts we also begin to learn what kind of a man Bob Cormac really was, and how much his story meant to its fans. Those who love The Shadow Glass relive their childhood and their fond memories of the film by rewatching and then introducing it to their children, sparking a new generation of fans, which we all know in turn inspires reboots, sequels, fanfic and spin-offs, to bring a classic to a modern audience. Thus Bob’s creation lived on.
“A story only kept going if people remembered it, if they lived it over and over again. If it was forgotten, it evaporated.
Ceased to exist.”
I immediately connected to this story in a multitude of ways. The narrative is wonderfully laced with references to 80’s pop culture which I adored spotting, and many scenes replicated the kind of scenes found in movies from the era, with Winning paying homage to The Jim Henson Company. Winning perfectly captures how the escapist movies of the 80’s, such as The Neverending Story and Labyrinth, enthralled its audience in worlds full of puppets, fantasy adventure and a touch of peril. They stay with us because they remind us of a time when we believed in magic, when life wasn’t so complicated and good always conquered evil. The way many of the characters felt about the world of Iri, is exactly how I feel for Middle-Earth, it feels like home.
”One by one, images around the room shivered and stirred, as if awakened by her words. Jack stared in astonishment. All around them the canvasses whirled, leaves rustling as creatures dipped in and out of view while a hulking painted leviathan opened its fanged mouth to roar at a bleeding sky. Jack almost thought he heard it.
‘It is wild,’ Zavanna said. ‘It is Iri. It is home.’”
Speaking of characters, I loved how quirky they were and how they were often extremely relatable. When Jake, a man in his mid thirties, jobless and in a fair bit of debt, enters his father’s attic and discovers the puppet Savanna, Dune’s sister, and her mate Brol have come to life and need his help, is understandably overwhelmed and reluctant to believe for the first half of the novel. It is Toby, a teenage Shadow Glass fanatic, who steps up and helps Jack on his quest. Oh how I adored excitable nerdy Toby so much, his deep knowledge of The Shadow Glass, his faith in the quest to save Iri, held such charm. He also added a great deal of humour, as did many of the other characters.
The way feisty Zavanna continuously referred to Jack as ‘the manchild’, never failed to make me laugh, and loyal warrior Brol often made me chuckle, especially when he declared Mike’s Video store as ’The domain of the Scribes of Film’ – almost as though it was a holy religion, which I guess to the puppets it was. Then there were the Shadow Guild members, Anya, Sumi, Nell, and Toby’s boyfriend Huw. I loved how these were characters from all different backgrounds banding together in their love for a fantasy movie and how their belief was unquestionable. Jack’s cousin, Amelia, was also a significant character as she showed him another side to his father.
On a deeper level Winning doesn’t just give us a fun escapist novel, he also shows us that although we fans idolise the creators of our favourite movies and books, and put them on a pedestal, they can be entirely different people behind the curtains, messy and complex. We discover that Jack’s father was a drunk, a man who neglected his son throughout his childhood, a man who cared more for his own obsessions. Yet as the novel progresses Jack discovers that his father was more than just a bitter drunken man, behind the mask he was a man sunk into depths of grief after Jack’s mum passed, whose lifelong dream failed. Essentially Bob was a father who made many mistakes, but once he became ill, he tried to right his wrongs and found a way to use The Shadow Glass to reconnect with his son even after his passing. I loved how poignant and heartfelt this narrative arc was.
Ultimately though this is a story of the power of fandom. I love, love, love the way Winning portrayed fandom and our obsessions; the way we collect as much merchandise from the movie as we can – figures, games, posters, novelisations. The way we also collect as much information as we can, always trying to delve that bit deeper. How we band together in our nerdom. Movies, books and games can have such a wonderful impact on our lives. The scene with The Dragon Con illustrated this perfectly and was an absolute delight.
Winning shows us that a single person alone does not own a film or book, these things are created to be shared, to be loved by a community, to be built upon and to grow. Upon its release it is no longer just the creator’s work, it belongs to us, for us to interpret and enjoy in our own ways.
“This wasn’t about using nostalgia as a shield, it was about celebrating the things that defined them, the characters that spoke to their heart’s truth, the things that made them different and unique and powerful in their own special way. It united them.”
The Shadow Glass speaks to a generation who hold a deep fondness for their childhood, who still long to believe in magic and adventure, but also to those who are proud to be different. Ultimately Winning writes a love letter to 80’s fantasy fans, fandoms, and those enamoured by nostalgia.
E-ARC provided by Lydia at Titan Books. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
The Shadow Glass will be released on 22nd March 2022 but you can pre-order your copy HERE