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That, however, turns out to be just one of the many accomplishments of K.C. Shaw's short novel, Jack of All Trades. Jack Bywater, a general handyman, hedgewizard, and magical zoologist, whisks readers away with him on a romp through the classic English countryside. Far from conjuring the 'wizards among us' premise of Harry Potter or the austere, aloof wizards of Tolkien, K.C. Shaw's Jack is simply an everyman working odd jobs to make ends meet. His abilities just extend a little further than most and include being a substitute butler, fixing steps and roofs, and exterminating wasps. He's easy to like and cheer on to victory. Who doesn't want to see the hero get the girl, save himself and his pet dragon from a dire fate, and scrape together enough money to live happily ever after?
Oh, and about those wasps...did I forget to mention they're as big as a man's head? Magic and the supernatural are almost added to the tale as an afterthought, being so commonplace and accepted that I found myself double-checking the text to make certain I hadn't misread it. The understatement of magic ultimately proves a double-edged sword for Jack of All Trades. Its opening chapter is so mundane that it's hard to recognize it as fantasy, apart from the minor appearance of a pet dragon. There's also a growing sense, as Jack reveals more abilities in response to more difficult and dangerous jobs, that the details about magic fall short. Readers always want to know more about how and why our favorite imaginary force works and this story doesn't do much to deliver. On the other hand, this sort of presentation does allow other mundane details to shine through which often don't make the forefront in this genre. The characters inhabiting the local village are striking and memorable, conjuring the colorful souls we all know from our daily lives. Whispers of the crown of England, a mysterious curse, and faerie interference also serve as tantalizing mysteries to draw readers in.
Jack's adventures as he tries to make a place for himself and survive the local characters - including a paranoid schizophrenic wizard and an arrogant unicorn-raising farmer - make for a charming read which ends too soon. A reader is left wishing for more chapters, more detail, and more misadventures. Although enjoyable by a mature reader, I can't help but wonder if this tale would shine at its brightest as an oversized book with large illustrations meant to be read out loud to children. It would make a superb gift for introducing younger readers to the fantasy genre.
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