March 20, 2022

Josh Winning: "The Shadow Glass" (ARC Review)

Title: The Shadow Glass  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Josh Winning [Site | Goodreads | Other Goodreads (as Joshua Winning)]
Genres: Fantasy, Multiverse
Year: 2022
Age: 16+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age, but it can be read by mature teens - see "WARNING!" below)
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Fresh spin on the portal fantasy trope/puppet fantasy genre with grown-up protagonists. Stuffed (pun intended) with action and heart. Reads like an impassioned love letter to '80s cinema (and fandom of any kind), but will resonate with anyone regardless of age.
Cons: Some of the side characters could have used more development/agency.
WARNING! Blood and gore. A handful of scenes are particularly gruesome.
Will appeal to: Lovers of '80 cinema (especially if it involves puppets). People who have never seen an '80 movie, but can get behind the idea of love moving mountains - or better, conjuring up worlds.

Blurb: Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden 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, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune. But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father. In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, [where,] during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within - and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I beta-read this book. Also, Titan Books provided me with an evaluation ecopy via both NetGalley and Edelweiss (thank you!). Neither facts influenced my review in any way.


The Shadow Glass reads like a love letter to movies like Labyrinth and The NeverEnding Story (not to mention The Dark Crystal, to which its title pays homage - like that movie, the book centers around a quest for the pieces of the titular object), with a notable difference: its main character isn't a teen adventurer, but an embittered loser in his late thirties with (legitimate) daddy issues, who's grown to hate the fantasy world his father Bob created, the same world he idolised and whose magic he used to strongly believe in as a child. Fear not, though, because this story isn't a self-pity party - it is, for all purposes, a sometimes epic, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny coming-of-age tale with an adult at its center (which is the freshest thing about it), one who has to rediscover the power of magic and the hero within, while learning to process his anger and grief and, ultimately, to understand and forgive (plus to forge unexpected relationships, both with humans and puppets become alive 😂). [...]


Truth be told, albeit borrowing from a plethora of '80s movies, The Shadow Glass is unique in a lot of ways, not only when it comes to its protagonist's journey. The way the puppets (with such creative names as kettu - the fox-like creatures that Jack befriends - skalions and lub) become more and more real over the course of the story; their personalities and interactions with humans; the film studio and fan convention as locations for the kettu/skalions wars; the tribute to fandom - with the acknowledgment that fans (like heroes) transcend age barriers - and in that respect, the discourse about purity/canon vs. fanlore/transformative work, and how any piece of media/entertainment (or in this case, a whole fantasy world) takes substance from the people who love it, and is at risk of withering and dying if you cease to breath life into it, at the cost of "warping" its creator's original purpose. For this reason, Wesley Cutter - the man behind Jack's father's demise - is as much the villain of the story as the bloodthirsty skalions are: his fanatical drive for purity when it comes to Iri (the fantasy world Bob created) has been suffocating it and leaving only rubble in its wake the same way the skalions' fight for domination has.


Structurally, The Shadow Glass is a strong book. The quest moves at an insane pace, but with the right amount of pause for introspection where it's needed. Horror and fun go hand in hand beautifully - there's a fine comical thread woven into the story that creates a nice balance with the most gruesome moments and Jack's battle with his own demons. Also, there are reveals along the way that I genuinely didn't see coming but that, in retrospect, don't come out of left field, and "side" creatures who steal the scene (like the lub, whose name makes for some funny puns on top of that). Pretty much the only quibble I have is that the Shadow Glass Guild members - that is, the fans of the namesake movie who aid Jack, Toby, Amelia and kettu Zavanna and Brol in their quest - could have used more development and/or agency. I understand that there wasn't enough page-time for them all to become more substantial without turning the book into a tome, but some events would have been more significant and/or hit me in the feels more if I had spent more (quality) time with Anya, Sumi, Huw and Nell. I can't complain about Zavanna and Brol though, nor about the main skalion antagonists, queen Kunin Yilda and seer Nebfet. Every one of them is genuinely impressive in their own way, which means that, indeed, in the right hands, even puppets can be...fleshed out 😂.


...Which bring me to my last point, in case you're not sure if The Shadow Glass may be a good fit for you. On paper, I shouldn't have been the right demographic for this book for two reasons: 1) I've never been into puppets; 2) despite being a teen in the '80s, I've never seen a single fantasy movie from that era (because well, you know me and movies 🤷‍♀️). So, I'll be honest: when Josh asked me to beta-read his '80s-movies-inspired retro fantasy with puppets, at first I was a little scared that the premise wouldn't work for me - would I be able to buy into that kind of scenario? or would I find the puppets-become-real a tad cheesy? would I miss on something for not being able to catch the movies references? I decided to trust him - also because, let's be honest again, I was curious - and I'm so glad I did. I think it's a testament to Josh's writing skills and his ability to create sympathetic characters if his puppets-manifesting-in-the-real-world epic ended up being the kind of story I didn't know I needed. Also, even without '80s movies nostalgia being a factor for yours truly, I never felt like the new kid left out of all the inside jokes. Bottom line: The Shadow Glass is pretty much a book for everyone who believes in the power of stories, regardless of their age and nerdiness level. Read it now, thank me later 😉.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Adult books click here.
For more Fantasy books (YA) you can head to the Supernatural Room (since I shelve the two genres together), or use the Fantasy label in my Categories menu (which applies to both Adult and YA fantasy).


  1. I had no idea puppet fantasy was a thing. This sounds more Chucky than Pinocchio to me. Glad to see it was such a hit.

    1. LOL, neither - all the puppets are animal-like in some way.

  2. I've always been a fan of The Dark Crystal (and The Never Ending Story and Labyrinth (pretty much all the movies you mentioned I watched when I was little)) So I think I may decide to check out this book (given that it was inspired/gave a homage to it). :)

    I enjoyed reading your review,

    1. Thank you! I hope you decide to read it and it will be a winner for you.

  3. As soon as I read that the puppets come to life, I was thinking Labyrinth. The funny thing is I only just watched that movie for the very first time last month. My daughter couldn't believe that I had never watched it before. Falcor was named after the flying luck dragon in The NeverEnding Story. But I've never seen The Dark Crystal. This sounds like a good book though.

    1. I never watched Labyrinth, so you still beat me! LOL. I'm so out of touch with movies that I had to look up "Falcor" when I first read his name in your posts, because I didn't know what it could mean or where it could be from LOL.

      This one is different from your usual reads, but as I said, it's got something in it for everyone (unless you can't stomach gore).

  4. I like that this is about rediscovering the magic even though the protagonist is older (pretty unusual). And 80's cinema... The idea of fantasy taking some of its substantive elements from what fans bring to it. Always makes me think of Tolkien's world and the fact that so many people find it a "living" world perhaps precisely because they give so much to it. Who knows!

    At any rate awesome review!

    1. Thank you! I honestly think you would love this one! (Also, interesting observation about Tolkien).

  5. Oh wow! I bet I'd really enjoy this one. I had seen it making the rounds, but didn't really know what it was about. Thanks.

    1. It has a genre- and age-crossing appeal, so yes, I'm sure you would!

  6. Awesome review, Roberta! I didn't mention it in my review, but those movies sort of passed me by too. I did see The NeverEnding Syory and Labyrinth but I'm older than you, and I was just out of college when they came out, and was busy doing other things I guess, lol. But it doesn't matter because the story transcends age, it really is that good 😁

    1. Thank you! I didn't know you were older than me - I was 18 and 20 respectively when those movies came out. Anyhow, you're right, this is a story that transcends age!

  7. I have never seen those movies and didn't realize there was such a thing as puppet fantasy lol (despite no realizing that there were giant puppets in those movies lol).

    I'm glad you enjoyed something a little outside your comfort zone.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

    1. I didn't know puppet fantasy was a thing either! I've only seen E.T. 😳.

      This one is a true gem.


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