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Sorcerers of the Nightwing
Geoffrey Huntington
ReganBooks HarperCollins, 278 pages

Sorcerers of the Nightwing
Geoffrey Huntington
Geoffrey Huntington lives in a house by the sea not far from where the ghost of a pirate is said to eternally walk the cliffs in search of his lost gold. Under another name, he is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction.

Ravenscliff Website
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Excerpt: Sorcerers of the Nightwing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Sorcerers of the Nightwing arrives on the crest of twin publishing trends: the new craze for children's and young adult fantasy, and the production of it by authors who normally write for grown-ups (Geoffrey Huntington is a pen name for William J. Mann, author of several adult works of fiction and non-fiction). If it were put out by a brand-new YA sf/fantasy imprint, it would be three for three (YA publishing hasn't traditionally segregated science fiction and fantasy, as in the adult market; the rush to dedicated imprints is a new development, thanks to the huge success of J.K. Rowling). Instead, it comes from ReganBooks, an imprint not known for producing works for young people -- proof, as if we needed it, that no one is immune to trend, especially when the possibility of giant profit looms.

All of this is quite unfair to this enjoyable book, which has the potential to be the start of a popular series, but which I fear will be burdened both by its hyped-up launch and by its association with an adult imprint more accustomed to promoting Jackie Collins and Howard Stern. Hopefully these barriers won't prove insurmountable, and Sorcerers of the Nightwing will find its audience.

Devon March has always known that the monsters in his closet are real -- and that, mysteriously, he has the power to fight them. His Dad knows it too: "You're stronger than any of them, Devon," he tells his son. But he never explains why the loathsome demons are there, or why Devon can banish them with a word, or why Devon sometimes manifests other powers, such as the ability to teleport objects and open doors without touching them.

When Devon is fourteen his father falls ill, and reveals a shocking secret: Devon isn't his real son. But he dies before he can say more. Before Devon knows it, he's on his way to live with a guardian he has never met -- Mrs. Amelia Muir Crandall, mistress of Ravenscliff, a Victorian mansion on a stormy section of Rhode Island coast known as Misery Point. The inner Voice that sometimes speaks to Devon tells him that the key to his unknown parentage, as well as to his mysterious powers, lies at Ravenscliff. In the little cemetery on the cliff, in fact, he finds a tombstone marked with just one word: Devon. But Mrs. Crandall (who Devon is sure is hiding something), claims to know nothing about any of it, and tells Devon not to pry.

Devon settles in at Ravenscliff, exploring the grounds, getting to know his new "family" -- including Mrs. Crandall's pretty daughter Cecily and her disturbed young nephew Alexander -- and making friends at school. All the while, covertly, he continues his search for answers, which leads him at last the mysterious Rolfe Montaigne, whose family, like the Muirs, has long been connected with Ravenscliff. Rolfe reveals that Devon is a descendant of the Nightwing, an ancient order of sorcerers who draw their magic from the power of demons, via Portals to the underworld known as Hellholes (though the Nightwing use their power only for good). It just so happens that Ravenscliff is built above an enormous Hellhole -- and that the Muir family too is Nightwing, though they've renounced their magic in an attempt to hold away the evil of renegade sorcerer Jackson Muir, who attempted to harness Ravenscliff's Hellhole for his own dark purposes. But Devon is beginning to suspect that even though Jackson Muir is dead, he's still around -- and that he's still trying to open the Hellhole. Has Devon's arrival at Ravenscliff given him the means he needs?

The book gets off to a rather awkward start, with choppy action and stilted dialogue, and a set of stock Gothicisms that recall every low-budget vampire or werewolf movie you've ever seen. This is obviously deliberate, but even so it's a bit much. On the bus to Misery Point Devon meets a crone who mutters darkly about Ravenscliff's ghosts; the locals he encounters when he arrives all advise him, with varying degrees of superstitious dread, to turn back; the only person who'll give him a ride just may be psychotic; and he arrives at the mansion in the middle of a crashing thunderstorm. Also, Huntington has chosen to tell the story in present tense, with a lot of distracting tense shifting that suggests he never quite got comfortable with it. This probably won't drive kids crazy the way it did me, but it's still an odd choice for a young adult book, and I suspect will put at least some readers off.

But once the book gets going it goes very well, with a fast-moving storyline, exciting supernatural confrontations, and an effectively spooky atmosphere. Its publicity materials bill it as "Harry Potter meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but despite the sorcery of the Nightwing there isn't much Harry here, with ghosts, revenants, and repulsive demons (including a sinister TV clown who's the fulfillment of every parent's nagging suspicion that kids' shows are Instruments of Evil) holding center stage. It's not a subtle treatment; there are few shades of gray in the novel's depiction of good and evil, and the reader is never in any real doubt as to the characters' allegiances. But not all kids want to read about Blakean wars in heaven. Plenty will relish the unambiguous entertainment of this tale, with its many popular culture references and its superhero-style action scenes in which Devon kicks demon butt while engaging in Buffy-esque repartee.

Devon is an appealing protagonist, convincing in his questions and doubts about himself, admirable in his bravery in standing up to forces he's only beginning to understand. By the end of the novel he has embraced his heritage and undergone a crucial test of character, but most of his questions remain unanswered. No word yet as to how many volumes are planned for this series; Huntington will need to be careful not to string readers along too much, and to make each book a self-contained adventure. But for now the world of Ravenscliff and the Nightwing hold out many prospects for entertaining exploration.

Copyright © 2002 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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