Sam Enthoven's young adult novel The Black Tattoo is an intriguing tale of friendship, family and sacrifice... centered around a powerful demon called the Scourge and mostly set in the land of Hell.
Jack, Charlie, and Esme are three teens who, when not in Hell for one reason or another, reside in London, England. The main character, Jack, is very much your typical teenage boy: he goes to school, hangs out with his best mate (Charlie) and gets flustered when he meets a pretty girl (Esme). Then he and Charlie are approached by a mysterious stranger who asks them to become part of a secret organization (the Brotherhood) that is trying to save the world from a demon who has broken free of his prison and come to the human world for revenge.
The two of them agree and join up with Esme, who is a highly-skilled fighter with some superhuman abilities on the side. The stranger asks the three teens to take a simple test, and the one who succeeds will become the new leader of the Brotherhood.
Charlie instantly gains some new superhuman abilities when he takes the test. But does Jack? No, of course not... because, as he says throughout the book, "that's just typical." When Charlie even outdoes Esme, much to her chagrin, the stranger names him the new leader of the Brotherhood - and then disappears.
Only later do Esme and Jack realize that Charlie's powers are not like Esme's. He does not have them on his own: the Scourge has taken possession of Charlie and uses him to open the Fracture into Hell. Jack, unwilling to let his best friend get taken away, killed, or worse, follows them into Hell... where he finds a whole new perspective on life and the world.
Enthoven's characters are vastly different from the stereotypical "teens" and "demons" usually found in young adult novels. In fact, one of the characters turns out to be God himself, but instead of having him as the supreme ruler of all, Enthoven portrays him as the somewhat cowardly and pathetic but very intelligent caretaker of Hell's great library archive, where the records "since the beginning of time" are kept. Humor and seriousness are mixed in The Black Tattoo to give just enough lightheartedness to what would otherwise be a very dark novel.
In spite of this, Enthoven still falls short of some other writers because of the ending of his story... or really, the lack of ending. Sure, the main story arc is neatly solved "and everyone lives happily ever after" (more or less) as is typical for most young adult fiction, but there are some side stories that are touched on more than once or twice in the narrative that are never explained or given a satisfactory conclusion. According to Enthoven's website, he does this to let the reader fill in the story for him/herself, but in reality, that large of a gap should not be left open by the author (especially since Enthoven also states that he has no plans at this time of writing a sequel). This is more of a letdown to the readers, and a mark of laziness or, at the very least, inexperience, on the part of the author.
Other than that, The Black Tattoo is a very good read, and the characters are more than capable of making up for the lack of satisfaction at the end. Their oddball development (which is still fairly realistic) is a nice contrast to the quick tie-up of the main plot and the holes left in the sub-plots.
To find a copy of The Black Tattoo for yourself, head to the Midland Mall's Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com. For an ebook copy, visit B&N.com. If the library is more your style, Midland's Grace A. Dow Memorial Library can make copies available through inter-library loan.
Trivia Question: What is Raymond's last gift to Esme?