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THE SHADOW GLASS ****

Written by Josh Winning. RRP: £8.99 400pp

Published in the UK on 22nd March 2022 in paperback and e-book by Titan Books.

 

The best barometer of someone’s character is whether or not they like The Muppets. If they don’t, it’s best to cast them aside immediately as they are obviously a wrong ‘un. In THE SHADOW GLASS, the charming debut novel by film journalist Josh Winning, the author channels an obvious affection for the creations of the Jim Henson company into a rollicking and endearing fantasy adventure that will appeal especially to Henson fans. Also, perhaps of special interest to FrightFesters, this is the only novel that I’ve read that features an appearance from the Prince Charles Cinema.

 

THE SHADOW GLASS tells the story of Jack Corman, a thirty something whose life is in limbo. He’s jobless, broke and, on top of all that, his estranged father, Bob, has suddenly died.  Bob (effectively a more troubled Jim Henson type) was no ordinary father…and also not a very good one. He was the founder of a puppet studio that, amongst many other things, created a cult puppet fantasy in 1986 called “The Shadow Glass” (basically THE DARK CRYSTAL). Although it later developed a devoted following, it flopped upon release, being deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, sending Bob into a dark spiral of boozing and apparent madness that alienated him from his only son. However, Jack finds that his father might not have been as mad as he seemed when, on a dark stormy night, the puppets in his late father’s attic come to life and Jack gets embroiled in a mission to save the world from the more sinister of his father’s creations that are now loose in London eating security guards.

 

The novel is populated with likeable characters such as Toby, the teenage uber-fan, and his group of nerdy but heroic pals that Jack grudgingly befriends. Then there’s Brol and Zavanna, the two Kettu (fox-like warrior creatures, and the heroes of “The Shadow Glass” film), who are fantastic sources of deadpan humour as they try to adjust to 21st century London. The villains are suitably unpleasant too such as the sinister Kunin Yillda and her hordes of Skalions (“amphibian creatures with boil-pocked green skin […] squat and slimy-looking”).

 

It’s unsurprising to learn that Winning has had a career writing about film as, from reading this novel, it’s clear that he has deep knowledge of, and passion for, the media that he is riffing on. He also fits in time for a critique on toxic fandom with the character of Wesley Cutter. Even though there is a fair amount of pop culture references, Winning never overdoes it to the point of obnoxiousness, unlike the insufferable READY PLAYER ONE.

 

In a nice creative flourish, Winning explores the work of Bob Corman in-between chapters with excerpts from different in-world media such as reviews, the track list from the film’s soundtrack and transcripts from a YouTube video of Bob’s meltdown at Comic-Con.

 

Winning isn’t afraid to include the occasional tragic death or grisly moment (such as finger eating and one especially nightmarish image of the mystic creature, Nebfet, hiding in the chest cavity of a dead man and puppeteering their corpse). However, for the most part it is a very warm hearted and charming affair, refreshingly never feeling the need to resort to cynicism or snark.

 

One, very minor quibble, is the fact that it’s so heavily inspired by THE DARK CRYSTAL means that the fantasy world of Iri that Winning conjures doesn’t stand on its own as a wholly original creation (I couldn’t see this being adapted to film without them facing a lawsuit). But, to be fair to Winning, to come up with a totally original fantasy world to rival the existing 80’s classics, and then effectively throw it away as background filler to your novel would have been a stretch to have expected from him.

 

THE SHADOW GLASS was a very nice surprise. It’s not a short book, clocking in at around 400 pages, but it is incredibly well paced and easy to get through. After a rough couple of years out there in the real world, reading this was a pleasant escapist balm and I’m keen to see what Winning writes next (certainly if it also features Muppets).

 

Reviewed by John Upton.

 

 

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