WILD EYED SOUTHERN BOYS By Shawn McGee
Review & Cut by Whitney Reinhart
“My primary job is to read the Abernathy Book of Gargoyles to discover when a gargoyle can escape the Realm of Darkness back to Earth. I draw a circle and provide a portal inside of it. With druid magic and the information in the book, I bind it to my circle, then banish it again for hundreds of years. That’s the way druids worked for thousands of years.”
The premise of Wild Eyed Southern Boys by Shawn McGee is rife with possibilities and opportunities for a rollicking new take on an epic fantasy. The last, and most powerful, druid in centuries popping up in the Appalachian foothills of Northern Georgia to banish gargoyles who threaten to overtake the planet? Sounds juicy! After all, Appalachia is steeped in old magic and fey beliefs which somehow manage (still) to coexist peacefully with deep-rooted Christian faith. Fertile ground indeed for this kind of story. Unfortunately, the execution of what should have been a roaring adventure fell short for me.
Readers are dropped into the action right after the protagonist, Corey Norwood, has banished a gargoyle and is currently being chased by representatives of the church. As with any narrative which begins in this manner, it is common for readers to be a little disoriented at first. The problem is, this disorientation persists throughout the book. This is unfortunate because with just a little more in some instances, and a little less in others, Southern Boys could be excellent.
But what do I mean? Corey Norwood is a young druid with immense power and capabilities. He banishes gargoyles from Earth, back to the Realm of Darkness, when they appear in order to keep the church, more specifically the Curia in Atlanta, from using the gargoyles in their plans to dominate the world. This concept could have been explained more thoroughly to make the reader more intensely feel and better understand the threat of this unsavory off-shoot from the Catholic church. Why would the church need gargoyles? How would gargoyles, described as living stone creatures, facilitate the plan? The church is able to track Corey when he uses his magical abilities to banish the gargoyles and, because he stands between them and world domination, the church is hunting him.
Corey is a powerful, wanted young man and should be a dramatically charismatic character. However, in spite of his (predictable) good-looks and immense talents, Corey is pretty flat as a character. He is extremely self-effacing, almost irritatingly nice, and for some reason, feels he’s dumb because he dropped out of college. Also quite predictably, he is clueless when it comes to the women in his life, all of whom also miss the spark of vitality which should bring them to life.
Rachel is Corey’s best friend, and their relationship is described as co-dependent. They bonded over the shared tragedies of both losing their parents when they were young: Corey’s family died in a house fire and Rachel’s parents were murdered. Rachel is Corey’s mechanic and physical trainer. She is also on the autism spectrum. Apparently these two have trouble sleeping if they can’t sleep together and when they are together, they are always touching. Holding hands, sitting in laps, you get the picture. I applaud McGee’s desire to explore psychological conditions with his characters, but the representations of autism and codependency lack depth and nuance and came off as paying day-time television talk show lip-service to these conditions.
Rebecca is Corey’s beautiful ex-girlfriend who dumped him the same week his mentor, Old Donnie, died and wants nothing more than to get back-together with him. She is also a firearms expert and taught him how to shoot. And for some reason, she is obsessed with what a “proper young woman” (whatever that means) would or wouldn’t do. I lost count of the number of times this phrase was used in the book. Her grandmother wields an inordinate amount of influence in her life, and it seems she is the source of “the do’s and don’ts of young womanhood.”
Nicole is Rachel’s sister and an empath obsessed with hunting down the people who killed her parents. She convinces Corey to pretend to be her boyfriend so she can continue to operate independently in her search for the killers and avoid an arranged marriage (?!) being forced on her by her grandfather, Preacher John. Nicole betrays Corey to representatives of the church. And somehow, winds up being best friends with Rebecca.
Other than Old Donnie and Preacher John, I haven’t mentioned the assorted male supporting cast who form the rest of Corey’s “support staff.” They were no more compelling than Corey or the primary female characters.
Wild Eyed Southern Boys has the potential for some very interesting storylines and side quests, but it feels like McGee was more interested in packing in as much of all the things as possible without stopping to think about whether or not he should. Witches? There are a few. Occasional vampires? Yep, a couple of those too. Road trip to banish gargoyles that takes Corey from Atlanta to New Hampshire to Buffalo, New York to South Dakota to Kansas City to Chattanooga in what feels like too few days? Naturally! A Magic Mike-esque karaoke performance which results in an invitation for him and Rachel to join the Spring Fey Court? Sure, why not. All that’s missing is broad strokes of sex…wait, we have that too.
I wanted so badly to like Wild Eyed Southern Boys but, in the end, it felt like a Dukes of Hazard parody, fantasy mash-up which soured on the vine instead of ripening into a glorious, lush fruit you can’t wait to sink your teeth into.
This is a cut for me.
If this sounds like your cup of tea in spite of Whitney’s reservations, check out the author on Twitter or jump over to Amazon to grab a copy!