The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

April 2, 2022

Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible — the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud. 

I still remember it vividly; when I was eight years old The Dark Crystal was released. I remember being enthralled and terrified in equal measure. This wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before. There was a darkness in the story that I had never encountered. The good guys were undoubtedly good, but the bad guys were a different kind of bad. A bad that suggested if things went wrong, there would be a genuine consequence to our hero’s actions. For the first time the possibility that darkness/evil could win occurred to me. Looking back on it now, with adult eyes, I realise this made me love the story that little bit more. There was suddenly a previously unappreciated depth to the events unfolding. This is the moment where I started my lifelong love affair with all things genre. The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning is the author’s own love letter to that moment. To those fantasy movies of the nineteen-eighties that have left their mark.

The story is exciting and entertaining in every way possible but where the book really stood out for me is in the strength of the characterisation.

Jack Corman has spent years running from his past. Just imagine, your dad creates a fictional fantasy world that is loved by everyone who discovers it. As a toddler, you’re mesmerised, you get to be part of it and live the dream. As you get older however, the cracks start to show. Yes, your father is a genius, but he is a troubled genius. Before you know it, decades have passed and you are estranged from one another. There is a pained, weary anguish to Jack that feels palpable. He wants to love his father’s creation, but there is so much bad blood he can barely remember what it feels like to be a fan of anything.

Winning appreciates the dual nature that is often on display in any fandom. The majority of fans are good-natured inclusive souls who are always thrilled to find others that feel the same way as they do. Sadly, there are also a heck of a lot of self-important types who are only happy when they are trashing others. These self-appointed guardians tend to be pompous, overprotective and ultimately don’t really understand the thing they claim to love. The villain in The Shadow Glass is a perfect example. Cutter is so consumed with Bob Corman’s masterwork, his obsession for the world of Iri has twisted over the decades. Cutter has become a Shadow Glass purist. Even the slightest suggestion of a sequel or a spin-off is viewed with disdain. In counterpoint, Toby is the polar opposite of Cutter. When Jack meets Toby, he quickly comes to realise that the young man is just as obsessed with The Shadow Glass. The difference, Toby’s adoration is only ever positive. Toby has found the thing he loves most in the world and wants everyone to feel the way he feels. I’ve been around enough geek culture over the years to meet my fair share of Tobys and, unfortunately, also a few Cutters. The author absolutely nails these characters.

I’ve just realised I’ve been waffling so much about these few characters I’ve not even mentioned the denizens of Iri itself. Trust me, they are all manner of awesome but you’re just going to have to discover them yourself. All I’ll say is “lubs for the win!”

Josh Winning’s novel tips its head to its fantastical forebears on multiple occasions. I loved trying to spot all the references. There are a whole host of things to spot from character names to throwaway lines. I think I got a reasonable amount of them. For an old duffer such as myself, it added an extra layer of nostalgic delight to an already wonderful experience.

Still not sure if The Shadow Glass is the book for you? Put it this way, if you were traumatised by the Skeksis, had nightmares about The Nothing or were disturbed by the Goblin King* then rest assured this is most definitely the book for you. I’ll freely admit I took my time reading this novel. I genuinely didn’t want it to end. Josh Winning knows his intended audience well, and the narrative hits all the geeky beats you could hope for. We all have our own fandoms, those geeky things we treasure dearly. For example, I’ll fight anyone who disrespects Krull. It is a hill I am more than willing to die on. I’m nearly forty-eight years old and the hairs on the back of my neck still stand up on end when I hear the opening bars of The Ride of the Firemares by James Horner. Books like The Shadow Glass achieves the trickiest of tasks, and makes it look effortless, it reminds us what it was like to be young and love something unconditionally.

Enough beating around the bush, I’m just going to say it. We’re all thinking it already anyway. Someone get Netflix and The Jim Henson Company on the phone already. This book doesn’t just need to be read, IT NEEDS TO BE SEEN!!

The Shadow Glass is published by Titan and is available now. Highly recommended.

As regular readers will know I normally end my reviews with a recommendation of the music I would choose to listen to while reading the novel I’ve just reviewed. Sadly, in this instance, I’m afraid I can’t get my hands on The Shadow Glass: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jacob Jones**. The closest suitable alternative is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton. If it’s not the music of Iri then I don’t know what is. I am sure however that Bob would approve.

*I have it on good authority that David Bowie’s codpiece is still mentioned in hushed tones whenever groups of Labyrinth fans meet.

**It’s a fictional album mentioned in the book. Much as I may wish to be, I’m not a miracle worker.

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