Blog Tour Review: Keeper of the Black Stones by PT McHugh

 

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on PT McHugh's blog tour to promote his upcoming book,Keeper of the Black Stones. This book combines fantasy elements of time travel and superpowers with historical fiction taking place during the War of the Roses in 15th century England. Thank you to Pump Up Your Books for having us as a host on the tour. You can find the rest of the tour dates on the tour page.

 

Keeper of the Black Stones
PT McHugh

Glass House Press
Releases February 26, 2013
369 pages
YA / Fantasy / Time Travel

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Jason Evans, a shy, introverted high school freshman, thought that his mundane life was all there was – girls, golf, physics, and the occasional bully. Until he found out about the secrets his grandfather had been keeping from him … a set of stones that allowed them to jump through time … a maniacal madman who used the stones to shape history to his liking … and Jason’s role as one of the few people in the world who could stop that man.

Against impossible odds, a fourteen-year-old boy must take up his legacy, learn everything he needs to know within one short day, and travel helter skelter into the Middle Ages, to join Henry VII’s fight against Richard III, end the Dark Ages, and stop the man who now holds his grandfather captive. In this romp through history, Jason and his friends must race against time to accomplish not one, but two missions.

Save his grandfather.

And save the world.

Keeper of the Black Stones is an interesting book that seems to live in between the spaces of several categories. It’s equal parts fantasy and historical fiction with its roots feeling as though they are firmly implanted in the lore of King Arthur fables. Perhaps it was the marathon watching of Merlin while recovering from bronchitis, but the second half of this book had me firmly implanted in an epic journey full of mystery, intrigue and the possibility of magical moments happening at every turn despite the entire book taking part in our own world. I had a hard time deciding if this is middle grade or YA, probably because Jason and his friends read as actual 15-year-olds rather than the wise-beyond-their-years protagonists of many YA titles these days.

Jason’s story starts when he accidentally grabs his grandfather’s bag instead of his own. Inside is his grandfather’s journal, filled with fantastical tales of time travel back to the Dark Ages in attempt to maintain the historical results of the War of the Roses, a conflict being manipulated against history by a psychotic modern man who goes by the name of Dresden. As most normal teenage boys would, he thinks his 70-something year old grandfather has gone a bit mental and is quickly headed down the road of senility. It’s not long though before Jason and his best friend Paul discover the secret stone beneath the shed that can actually transport people to the 15th century. When the stone starts talking to him and showing him visions, Jason finds himself and his friends on an epic journey through the British countryside while foes chase them from all sides.

The relationships that develop between the four kids and their bodyguard – the mysterious former member of the Special Forces, Reis – gave me strange Goonies feelings, which made the journey all the more fun. It was a relief to get through nearly 400 pages without any overt romantic signals or kids making eyes at each other. Instead this is just an adventurous journey through some fascinating territory where danger potentially lurks behind every corner.

Lead character Jason is snarky, exceedingly smart and awesomely awkward. He’s the perfect type of character to pull out of his element only to find that maybe he just might belong in a past he’d otherwise never thought about. While his manner of speaking, dress and manners don’t fit in, his sense of duty, bravery and chivalry absolutely place him best the knights that his grandfather is fighting alongside. He runs with his instincts, which usually helps, but occasionally hurts him. By developing some sort of connection with these time traveling stones, Jason is able to save the day more than once and yet it still takes time for him to gain confidence as a leader.

The other two modern day kids aren’t as well developed with only a few traits to mark them as their own people. Best friend Paul is kind of dopey, talks too much, and is pretty useless. Tatiana, daughter of evil time traveler Dresden, is angry, smart-mouthed and not a lot else. Katherine, picked up soon after the team arrives in past England, has a lot of things hiding beneath the surface, but that’s only something that’s truly picked up because a few scenes are told from her point of view. Jason feels as though he must save her because of visions the stone gave him, but at least in this first book of the series, her importance is not known. Instead she stands around giving everyone else curious looks and yet somehow going along with all the technology that doesn’t belong in her time. Katherine feels like a story strand meant to pay off in books further on in the series.

If you’re highly sensitive to thinking about the butterfly effect when it comes to time travel stories, this is absolutely not the book for you. Reis, the ex-Special Forces soldier, goes time traveling with a sniper rifle and various handguns, and isn’t afraid to use them whenever the group gets in a jam. Tatiana cavalierly brings out her iPhone to listen to music whenever there is down time, though that does lead to a fun scene where the team uses their technology to convince the locals that they are witches to escape a tight spot. Considering one of the primary goals is to prevent time from being changed, Jason and his friends are not exactly careful to the objects they’ve introduced into this society centuries ahead of time.

Normally it would bother me that McHugh doesn’t even allude to the origin of the time travel stones, but in this story, it works to take these magical objects at face value without needing to know why or how (I’m voting ancient Druids, but that could be all that Merlin watching). I wish there had been a bit more information regarding the thieves with grenade launchers that show up in present time to ransack Jason house and attack Reis, but it’s also possible that my current fight with some sort of plague prevented me from piecing together a connection with the already known bad guys.

Keeper of the Black Stones is an exciting adventure story with a lot of heart, a protagonist that feels as though he truly could exist and a backdrop of old England that feels well-researched and authentic. McHugh utilizes real history to create a fascinating tale of heroism while making small adjustments here and there to fit his needs. This was the perfect read for me to curl up with on a Sunday afternoon to forget that I wasn’t feeling well and just drown in the adventure ahead.

 

About the Author:

PT McHugh didn’t start out as a storyteller. He was, however, born into a family of that encouraged imagination. He became a fan of history in school and then went to college to become a construction engineer, to build a world of straight lines, angles, and equations.

He was just as surprised as everyone else when he realized that he believed in magic, and might just know the secret of how to jump through time. Since then, he’s been researching the possibility and learning everything he can about history. Just in case the opportunity arises.

PT was born and raised in New Hampshire and currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Bob, daring to dream of alternate worlds and cheering for his beloved New England Patriots.

His latest book is the YA fantasy/time travel, Keeper of the Stones.

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I received a copy of this book for review from Pump Up Your Books tour in return for an honest review as part of the blog tour.