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“It’s you and me, right?”

The Crimes of Rooker FlynnIn The Crimes of Rooker Flynn, A.R. Witham returns to the world of Keymark and weaves another transportive fantasy adventure full of majik and mayhem. Darker and more disturbing than ever before, this dangerously addictive and diabolically fun tale of survival and unlikely friendship is a true emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.

Now, this review is a special one for me, as I had the absolute honour and pleasure of alpha reading this entire trilogy last year. Does that make me biased? Maybe. But then, the entire reason I ended up being an alpha reader in the first place is because The Legend of Black Jack wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, and Andy wanted some brutally honest feedback.

Joke’s on him, I ended up loving The Crimes of Rooker Flynn, even in its rough early stages before (in Andy’s own legendary words) “the story puts her makeup on, still standing in front of the mirror wearing faded underwear and a tank top, eating a powdered donut”. And honestly, the finished product that I am reviewing here today has had a magnificent glow-up and turned out even better than I could ever have imagined.

Whereas the last adventure in Keymark showed us this world through Jack’s outsider perspective, this time we get to experience it in all its glory through the eyes of our most loveable rogue: the infamous pirate Rooker Flynn. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, he finds himself stuck with all the most fearsome criminals at The Locke Institute, a brutal and deadly prison masking as a  reformation school. All hope seems lost, until one fellow prisoner turns out to be an old familiar kid genius who just might get them out, even if they die trying.

Whether you have read The Legend of Black Jack or not, Witham does an exceptionally fine job of (re)establishing the characters and smoothing the reader (back) into the world in The Crimes of Rooker Flynn. I think it takes a very skilled storyteller to make a world feel so vibrant and alive that it immediately feels like coming home, but that is exactly what Witham has accomplished in the creation of Keymark. The imagination is off the charts, and I honestly felt like I was right there with the characters trying to survive in the brutal jungle prison and outrunning giant spiders, for better or worse.

Right from the prologue, the story just zooms along at breakneck speed with its unputdownable ‘just one more chapter’ quality, yet none of the character work or emotional impact suffers from the fast pacing. The diverse cast of characters leaps off the page with personality, providing plenty of people who you can love, hate, love to hate (looking at you, Gerba) or hate to love. Moreover, the complex interpersonal relationships that lie at the heart of this narrative are beautifully drawn, and all the conflicting emotions simply bleed off the page.

Witham goes down some shockingly dark paths in The Crimes of Rooker Flynn, almost leaning into horror territory and tackling heavy topics of trauma, mental health, and brutal emotional and physical torture. Yet because of the characters’ undying hope and defiance, combined with their devilish charm, sharp tongues, dark humour, and amusing banter, even in the darkest of times, the story never becomes draining or exhausting to read. It still has all the whimsical quirkiness that The Legend of Black Jack did, except this time the baby gloves are off and you get some delicious emotional destruction along with it.

And speaking of emotional destruction, Witham quite literally leaves both the characters and the readers hanging on a brutally devious cliffhanger that will simply demand you come back for the sequel. Fortunately for all of us, the entire trilogy is already penned, and having had the privilege of reading it already, I can confidently tell you it only gets better, wilder, darker, and more intense from here.

While some of the emotional beats might hit just a tiny bit harder if you have read and enjoyed The Legend of Black Jack, this new rip-roaring and soul-stirring adventure in Keymark stands perfectly on its own and kicks off The Locke Institute trilogy with an absolute bang. If you are looking for a fast-paced fantasy tale that strikes the perfect balance between the action and the emotion, then you seriously don’t want to miss out on The Crimes of Rooker Flynn.

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

The Crimes of Rooker Flynn

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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