Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham


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Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms.

Before getting to the review, I have to give a little backstory. My oldest son occasionally allows me to share book reviews that he’s written. Author A.R. Witham heard about that and sent a copy of his book, along with a kind and supportive note, to my son. It meant so much to my son and I am so grateful to the author for this kindness. My son reviewed The Legend of Black Jack as well (you can find his review here).

Jack Swift can remember anything—even the horrible things he’d like to forget. To keep his guilt-ridden memories from haunting him, and to dodge his abusive foster mom, he buries himself in any book he can find, dreaming of his ultimate escape: becoming a doctor.

But fate has another escape in mind.

At 3:33am on his fourteenth birthday, Jack is kidnapped by a monstrous rhinoceros and whisked away to another sphere of existence: the land of Keymark. Though this world is filled with pixies, monsters, pirates, elves, warriors, and all sorts of mythical wonders, it is without healing magic—that magic was stolen by an evil, immortal prince hell-bent on domination. With no understanding of medical science to heal their wounds or illnesses, Jack’s kidnappers ask the impossible of him: use his knowledge to save a life…or be trapped in this bizarre world with no chance of rescue.

Jack doesn’t have secret magic, a great destiny, or any medical experience.

Why do they all expect him to become a legend? (Taken from Amazon)

The Legend of Black Jack is a fast-paced book full of adventure and heart. The novel centers around the most likeable main character, a boy named Jack who has an eidetic memory. After losing his father and bouncing from foster home to foster home, Jack- whose thirst for knowledge is matched only by his desire to become a doctor- finds himself embarking on a new adventure with the most unlikely of characters.

They say he was an outsider. A man with no home, no family, no friend to call his own. The man with nothing left to love. The empty man.”

The beginning reminded me so much of The Name of the Wind, which was astonishing considering the difference in target age. I loved how it was written and I was immediately drawn in. The book continues wonderfully, not only keeping me invested, but keeping my oldest son invested as well. It was awesome being able to talk about the plot and our favorite characters together.

I loved that Jack’s strengths were the things that people might have found odd about him: his fascination with how the body works and bits of knowledge gleaned from encyclopedias. These are not the usual trappings of the hero in a story, and it was genius. He was an incredibly nuanced character, who grew and changed as he experienced new things and dealt with growing fears.

Jack having fears and continuing on despite them made me like him all the more. This is the sort of book that, on top of being tons of fun, middle-grade and high school readers will relate to. Sure, the setting is fantastical, but the things Jack deals with transfers over to real-life fears and doubts. I think the stories that often stick with us the most are the ones that do this.

The creatures and characters that show up throughout The Legend of Black Jack are fantastic! While my son’s favorite character was Chance, I was partial to Rooker the pirate. His relationship with Jack and the way it grew and developed, was wonderful to read.

The world was full of creativity and rip-roaring adventure, which I loved. At the end of the day, though, the relationships were what made me fall in love with this novel. My 14 year old loved the book – and so did I. The Legend of Black Jack is something special.

The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham

Every now and again, I share a book review written by my oldest son. Author A.R. Witham kindly gave him a copy of The Legend of Black Jack not too long ago. I’m sharing my son’s review exactly as he wrote it. Enjoy!

I recently read The Legend of Black by A.R. Witham, and I absolutely loved it! There are so many things to talk about here, so I gotta stop with the intro already and start with the actual review.

The Legend of Black Jack is an awesome fantasy story that isn’t just about one thing like some other books, it’s about everything in the world of Keymark. It follows the story of Jack, a young boy (or Toshan) from Chicago with a perfect memory. His life is kind of rotten at the start of the book, but it quickly gets better when he is brought to Keymark in order to use his knowledge of medicine (he wants to be a doctor so he memorized every medical book he owns) to save the life of Xiang-lo, an important resident of Keymark.

Admittedly, I was a little uncomfortable with the part where Jack has to perform surgery, but it was mostly me. Anyways, back to the review!

After the operation, Jack meets and befriends Valerian Tsai, a Border Knight and wielder of a blade that glows gray with the power of the Wikk, which is what they call magic in Keymark. I personally loved the idea of magic flaming swords in different colors, it was really unique. Valerian introduces Jack to Abrahim Qin, another Border Knight and wielder of the Azure Blade. Abrahim attempts to train Jack in combat and quickly decides that Jack is best off with a simple staff.

After the somewhat fruitless training session, Jack meets more residents of Keymark (I’m not naming names to avoid spoiling everything). But then, the evil armies of the Necrorceror (the villain of the story) attack! Led by a warrior in red with a flaming sword, the horde of zombies and dog-sized cockroach things quickly overrun the area, leaving Jack running for his life.

Jack is quickly picked up by Rooker Flynn, a pirate and the new captain of the ship Venture Brigand. Rooker and Jack befriend each other during their voyage to Rimmy’s Cull, a bustling seaport town known for being a hub for merchants, pirates, and trade. When they arrive, however, they find that Rimmy’s Cull has been set ablaze, and is under attack from the man in red armor and the army he leads. Again, I will leave some things out in order to avoid spoiling the book completely (even though I already said a lot of things), but let’s just say a lot happens during and after that.

I don’t want to say any more about the story than I already have, so instead I’ll talk about my favorite characters and other things.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: my favorite character is Chance the Jinx-cat. A Jinx-cat is basically a cat-person, or I guess you could say they’re walking, talking, tail-having anthropomorphic cats. Chance just has a lot of personality, in my opinion. I also happen to really like cats and Chance portrays a cat’s personality well. Chance doesn’t appear until later in the book, so I’m technically revealing more spoilers, but I haven’t said anything about his role in the story, so I think I’m good there.

Another thing I want to say is just that Mr. Witham did a really great job giving each of the Border Knights unique and interesting personalities, even though some don’t appear much at all. Again, I want to compliment the idea of the magical color-coded blades. Now that I think about it, it kinda reminds me of the Keyblades from Kingdom Hearts mixed together with the different colors of Lantern Rings. Cool!

Suffice it to say, The Legend of Black Jack is now one of my favorite books. Everything worked so well to really give life to the world of Keymark and to keep me interested. It’s definitely going on my reread list!

By the way, thank you to Mr. Witham for sending me the book. I thought the note you wrote me was very nice!