If you’re thinking to yourself that you’ve seen something already on the book Cloak by James Gough on GeekDad, you’re not wrong. An earlier interview and synopsis of the book from fellow contributor John Booth back in December caught my attention, and I’ve just finished reading what I hope to be the first of many books set in Gough’s unique universe. (Be warned — reading the interview might provide a few subtle spoilers near the end.) As I was reading, my mind kept jumping to all of the things I enjoyed about the Harry Potter series — a world complete with historical figures and its own rules, a hidden group hiding among the masses, deep conspiracies that can take readers in multiple directions and keep you guessing, and multiple examples of friendship and loyalty paired against rivalries and betrayal. And Gough doesn’t pull any punches, either. You’ve got a dangerous world, with dangerous characters… where people get hurt, or worse.
The modern day story focuses on young Will Tuttle. He’s allergic to everything made after the early 1960s. His parents are very wealthy and are constantly traveling. But not Will. He’s safely protected in his bubble bedroom where nothing can touch him and irritate his skin or send him into convulsions or hallucinating wildly. But he’s had enough, and after a well-planned escape from his home and the not-so-nice nurse in charge of his care, he’s off to see the world that he only knows through books and maps. But he’s not out for even a few hours before he makes an astonishing discovery that has him questioning his hallucinations. There are special people in this world who are cloaked; how you and I see them is not how Will sees them. And that discovery will take Will on a trip across the country to discover his role in a hidden world that has its own agenda, its own enemies, and its own dangers (to Will and to his newly discovered cloaked friends).
Now, please don’t take my earlier comparison of James Gough’s Cloak to the Harry Potter series negatively — I mean it in the most complimentary of ways. Gough has created a world that young adult readers are sure to enjoy, but what I really enjoyed about this opening book is the complete lack of magic. Everything has an explanation, even if it at first seems a bit supernatural. This is a world where the out-of-the-ordinary characters that Will encounters all have a reason for being. The mythology that Gough provides to explain this new world that Will has discovered is filled with plenty of backstory, and the plot that develops fast hinges on convincing the reader that a hidden world could exist and stay hidden easily enough. Thankfully, Gough’s writing style makes it easy to accept this premise. And from there, there were so many enjoyable aspects of the book that developed quickly:
1. The Bigger Conspiracy — there’s a deep, sinister plot running throughout the book, and even though it comes to a conclusion at the end of the book, there’s enough questions left over to convince me that Gough has a much bigger story that’s not been told yet. You’ve got some serious bad guys, a few heart-breaking betrayals, and some new allies that have yet to have their own story told.
2. The Special Ops Team — Will is befriended by a special team among the cloaked world, with its members all having their own unique histories and motives for why they do what they do. These aren’t shallow characters, but over the length of the book, you really get to know them individually and understand why they are so protective of the world they live in… and why they are both concerned for Will’s safety and scared about his ability to discern them.
3. A Vivid World — Gough has some excellent scene descriptions that make it easy to visualize the architecture of the cloaked world, the dress and mannerisms of the various cloaked world inhabitants, and the unique skills that the inhabitants possess and use on a daily basis. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but it’s this level of detail that makes the book come alive. (I’m not aware of any feature film in the works based on Cloak, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about it sooner or later — it’s got a story and characters that are made for the big screen.)
4. Loyal Friends — Will has his team of protectors, but when the story starts he is lacking in true friends. I think young adult readers will find some subtle lessons in this book on selecting friends. We don’t always pick our friends so much as they often appear at the right time in the right place. Will’s world is turned upside down and he’s in danger, but Gough drops some loyal buddies on Will at just the right moments without feeling contrived. I think it’s important in YA fiction that loyalty be identifiable, and that main characters know who they can always fall back on… and when the story ends, Will knows who he can trust and who he cannot.
5. Believable Bad Guys — Having a believable villain (or villains) means giving the bad guy(s) reasonable motives for the evil they do. Will isn’t a target for target’s sake… he’s dangerous to the new world he’s found, and there are people who don’t trust him and there are others that don’t believe he should be allowed to live. There are good reasons why Will is a target in this cloaked world, and Gough does a great job of making the villains suitably dangerous and allowing the reader to understand their reasons for wanting Will removed from the picture.
When I finish a book wanting more, then I know the author has done his/her job. Cloak is a book that I would have absolutely enjoyed reading as a young adult. The writing style isn’t dumbed down, and Gough’s dialogue is smart and fast. If you’ve got a young reader who likes a good story, a nice conspiracy or two, some really nasty bad guys, and plenty of action and fighting sequences, then Cloak is sure to entertain.