Touched by Shadows
Vaughn A. Jackson
JournalStone Publishing (December 10, 2021)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Thirteen-year-old Oumou is a powerful telekinetic. She’s been raised in a laboratory by unethical scientists who experimented on her, and has no real memories of her family or knowledge of the outside world. She escapes but is pursued by a monstrous entity that wants her body for its own purposes (none of them good). Oumou is taken in by a kind family and makes a friend—a sweet little girl named Amanda—for the first time in her life. Things start looking up. Then the neighbors start to make clear that they don’t want Oumou in their town because of the color of her skin. Oumou’s life rapidly goes from bad to worse.
Comparisons with Stranger Things and Firestarter are probably inevitable: in Touched by Shadows we’ve got a young, naïve girl who has escaped from a laboratory with extremely powerful special abilities being pursued by powerful forces who mean her harm, after all. Jackson has a unique take on this basic premise though. Touched by Shadows is built on a foundation of black-and-white morality: Oumou and the kindly family that takes her in on the side of the angels, while those opposed to Oumou—a townful of violent racists, scientists willing to abduct and experiment on a small child, and a literal demon that serially possesses its victims and destroys their bodies in the process—are starkly evil forces. For example, the racism that Oumou has to deal with is not the soft bigotry of low expectations or unconscious bias, this is true hatred that’s out in open, taking the form of white-hood-wearing racists willing to hurt and kill to prevent blacks from even stepping foot in their town, which they perceive as a “pure” community untouched by their perceived racial inferiors.
Jackson’s characterization is good: Oumou, Amanda, and Oumou’s small band of allies come alive, as do those opposed to them. No one is reduced to pure stereotype, with even the villains and their motivations interesting to read. Action is fast-paced and there’s plenty of ultra-violence for gorehounds to enjoy. Atmosphere and tone are likewise consistently creepy, with a genuine sense of tension and menace driving the plot forward throughout.
Jackson is a relatively new writer, with one previous book published. I like his courage as a writer, manifested through his willingness to explore not merely supernatural horrors—though there’s plenty of that here too—but the unspeakable horrors of racism and the violence that attends it still present in the modern world. Recommended.