WARNING: Jeff Gunhus' Adventure-Fantasy Series is a Monstrous Good Time (If You Dare!)
Melinda T. Falgoust
The devil-werewolf took another step toward us...
Swallowing my fear, I stepped back into position, shoulder-to-shoulder with Eva.
"Any advice?" I whispered to her.
"Yes," she replied. "Don't die."
Sage advice. Especially if you've suddenly discovered you were born a monster hunter.
Most fourteen-year olds receive video games for their birthdays. Maybe a cool, new bike. Occasionally, that favorite aunt will slip a twenty dollar bill into a quirky novelty card. Jack Smith is not so lucky. What he receives turns his teenaged world on its ear - the knowledge that he is not Jack Smith, orphan. No, he is Jack Templar, monster hunter, and every monster hiding in the shadows is just DYING to meet him.
Already familiar with Jeff Gunhus' work in his adult supernatural thriller novel Night Chill (Seven Guns Press, 2013), I was already well-acquainted with Jeff's ability to grab a reader's attention and adeptly ratchet the tension to edge-of-your-seat intensity. (Read my review here.) With Jack Templar, his new adventure/fantasy series for middle-grade and young adult readers, he does not short-change the heart-stopping moments. Currently, there are three books that follow the adventures of the young Templar:
Jack Templar: Monster Hunter;
Jack Templar and the Monster Academy; and
Jack Templar and the Lord of the Vampires.
For television viewers, the Templar series is much like Supernatural for the Skechers set. And though I also immediately found myself drawing comparisons to Mortal Instruments, the Percy Jackson series, Jeff's originality of voice quickly allayed any suspicions I may have harbored upon the opening words of Book One. The reader is immediately drawn in as a co-conspirator. Several warnings are offered directly to the reader by young Jack, and if you are brave enough to venture beyond their dire predictions, you're in for a wild ride through dark forests and deepest shadows to face some of the most terrifying ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties that ever roamed your imagination.
One characteristic of the Templar series I found refreshing was the strong female characters woven into the cast. Indeed, two of the first hunters Jack ever meets are females. Further, Master Aquinas, leader of the Monster Academy, is a female. In fact, the series deftly grants strength to characters who some writers traditionally cast as weaker, including Jack's rotund, booger-picking cohort, T-Rex who steps up in Book Two. It's an appeal that should speak to many young readers who, like Jack, start out in life without belief in themselves.
Like Jack, I will issue a warning. Though packed with excitement and action, more sensitive readers should be cautious when picking up this series. The fantasy-violence, though age-appropriate and not unacceptable, may be too intense. Gunhus does balance the intensity with chuckle-inducing humor, however. It's a little difficult to be TOO frightened when Jack describes a talon-bearing, leathery winged harpy as a "demented chicken".
While Book One was so jam-packed with action that the reader hardly finds a chance to breathe, the pace of Book Two slows down slightly - ever so slightly. This is largely due to the deeper exploration of personal relationships and the introduction of backstory. Exercise caution, dear reader, for this does not mean that Gunhus doesn't pack a mean one-two punch with the reminder of the plot. Book Two doesn't disappoint with telepathic werewolves, goblin armies, and fire-breathing dragons.
Book Three finds our hero embarking on a quest for the mysterious Jerusalem Stones, artifacts alluded to in the first two adventures. Ren Lucre, Lord of the Vampires, can only be stopped when the mythical stones are brought together. There's only one tiny problem...each of the stones is guarded by a nasty Creach lord. Hey, what's another monster duel?
The tone of Book Three is darker than the first two books, a trait many readers of middle-grade fantasy will recognize from the Harry Potter series. It does not detract from the enjoyment of the story, but again, wary readers take heed. The pulse-pounding action and anxious anticipation of what-comes-next will keep readers glued to the page!
So, if you're looking for a series filled with danger, fraught with peril, sprinkled through with quirky humor, and brave heroes, pick up the Jack Templar series. Just remember, you've been warned...and like Eva says: "It's all fun and games until someone gets eaten by a muguwump."