Children of the Web By Ben Johnson, 377 pgs.

Mar 15, 2022

How many of you started watching the original Star Wars trilogy with Return of the Jedi? Or started reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Return of the King? Of course you wouldn’t do that. And yet, that’s what I’m working with here for Ben Johnson’s Children of the Web. This is the third part of a trilogy and I haven’t read the first two books, so I’m coming in blind.

The book (and I assume the entire series) takes place in present day San Diego, but has a fantasy slant as the narrative cuts over to another dimension called the Web (not to be confused with the internet). Beyond fantasy there’s also a detective story as the protagonist, police detective Clementine Figgins, is seeking to understand why she’s being framed for murder. The author, Ben Johnson, describes it as Harry Potter meets Carlos Castañeda, and that seems accurate. There’s a magical sense to the work, including dogs whose barking can knock people over and insects that are hundreds of feet high.

Johnson is a good writer and his dialogue flows smoothly. There’s fine editing work here, too. For a book published by a small press, this is done capably and doesn’t include the myriad of problems I normally find with work from tiny, indie publishers.

Yet, given that I came in with the third book, I didn’t feel terribly engaged by the writing because I had to spend many pages trying to understand not only the characters but also the world they inhabit and its rules. And I certainly didn’t feel compelled enough to want to go back and read the first book, although that’s no slight against Johnson. I’m just not a huge fantasy reader. For those who like a little magic and otherworldliness in their fantasy, this might be worth checking out. Just make sure you start with the first book, A Shadow Cast in Dust. –Kurt Morris (grandmalpress.com)

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