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The Black Tattoo by Sam  Enthoven
Review by Drew Bittner
Razorbill Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 1595141146
Date: 05 October, 2006 List Price $19.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

In The Black Tattoo, Sam Enthoven takes the readers on a wild ride-- from London to the depths of civil war-torn Hell itself. It begins with an escape...

A creature known as The Scourge has been imprisoned for ages within an otherwise ordinary tree in England. However, playing on the lust of a weak-willed guardian nearly two decades ago, the Scourge broke loose; it was recaptured but only at a terrible cost to the guardians, a group known as the Brotherhood of Sleep. As the book opens, a wizard named Neal seeks to rebuild the Brotherhood's strength so that the Scourge can be recaptured. He comes across Charlie and Jack, two boys coping with the divorce of Charlie's parents, and is impressed with Charlie's potential. Jack tags along, though nobody pays much attention to him, since he's apparently only a sidekick.

Charlie is introduced to Esme, a young wizard-in-training who specializes in fighting, and her sword-making father Raymond. Neal poses a magical challenge to the three teenagers, but when Charlie emerges triumphant, Neal's life-energy (and his magical black tattoo) is given to Charlie-- who becomes a magic-powered super being. He confronts the Scourge and seems to defeat him one-on-one, but that's a feint... and a trick.

Raymond is killed and Charlie is seduced by the Scourge's promises of unlimited power. Working together, they open the mystic Fracture that leads from the mortal world into Hell, so that the Scourge can reclaim his power and launch his secret plan: to undo all Creation by waking the Dragon that lies beneath Hell.

Esme and Jack chase after Charlie for their own reasons. Esme wants revenge for Charlie's part in Raymond's death, while Jack wants to see if he can save his friend from his own worst impulses. Unfortunately, in Hell, nothing goes as planned...

Sam Enthoven has crafted an interesting tale in Tattoo, establishing a lively back story and characters who pursue their personal agendas even to their own destruction. Some, such as Jessica, appear all too briefly, but this isn't really their story; it belongs to Charlie, a kid caught between his better and worse halves who makes a lot of bad decisions, and Jack, the stalwart best friend who realizes that sometimes friendship isn't enough.

Esme may be the most fascinating of the three young leads, however, as she is a fierce warrior whose hobby is painting butterflies. Beautiful and headstrong, she makes some unpleasant discoveries along the way but never backs down from what she feels is right.

Fans of dark urban fantasy, suitable for teen readers as well as adults, should find The Black Tattoo well worth their time.

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