When I was growing up, my family always had discussions about different religions. Our extended family was pretty ecumenical, with Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Lutheran, Methodist (I went to Ohio Wesleyan) and several other faiths thrown into the mix. We debated the pros and cons, and spent hours determining which was true.
Finally, my Uncle Mike took a box into another room, and made markings on each side, top and bottom. Then he came back into the room, put the box on a glass topped table and divided us all into groups. He had people seated on each side of the box, left a couple standing, and others (me) under the table looking up. Then he asked “What do you see?” The people on the left saw an image of Buddha, the right saw a picture of Ganesh, at the front, a Star of David, while those in the back, saw a Cross. The people standing looking down saw a totem, while I (under that table) saw a picture of the Parthenon.
Then he gathered us together and asked us to describe what we saw. We answered and he said, “I saw a box and it held all the wonders of the universe therein.”
That’s how we feel about The Hutong Boy by Jack Lanka. All we know about Jack Lanka is that “is still on the way of his learning on earth, now in Asia area.” Quite the mystery man. What we do know is that he has written a thought-provoking and vibrant science fiction/fantasy tale that delves into the mystical and metaphysical realms and brings you out the other side still gasping at the wonders of the universe within.
Peter Morgan is a man who is metaphorically drowning. His relationship with Ashley Sandler has foundered, his career as an art expert is sinking and he doesn’t know how to save himself. Enter Sonam, from a small village in Tibet, who offers Peter a priceless object — aVajra — to sell through his auction house. Convincing Ashley to accompany him to western Tibet, Peter hopes to salvage both his career and his relationship. Little does he know that he is setting in motion a chain of events that will include murder, the sudden guardianship of the Hutong Boy Jack, secrets revealed and a wild quest that takes Peter and those seeking the Vajra, the Kundra and the Thangka to the furthest reaches of Tibet. The forgotten city of Tsaparang capital of the ancient kingdom of Guge in the Garuda Valley, looms over all, as Peter, Ashley, Jack and the others race to save the world from the forces of evil.
Spanning the world, and multiple times, The Hutong Boy, is both an adventure tale as well as a quest for the deepest meanings. Filled with mythic revelations that strike deeply into the human conscience as well as some hair-raising chases and a magnificent dog, Galei. Jack, the Hutong Boy, is a charming character about whom the entire tale evolves and his development from a frightened orphan to embracing his destiny is hinted throughout the book, but culminates in some spectacular scenarios. Parallel to this, the secrets that nearly destroy Peter and Ashley’s relationship are revealed as well, and their own search for love and acceptance deepens as the story unfolds.
The central location, the abandoned kingdom of Guge’s capital city Tsaparang becomes the focal point of everyone’s ambitions to return the relics that can change the world. Around 400 years ago Tsaparang was abandoned and its secrets hidden. This sets up the action of the book, as five men escape with artifacts given to them by their spiritual leader.
Prologue: Tsaparang Kingdom/ 400 Years Ago
…High on the walls of the palace above the city, five men planned an escape. “Tonight,” said the oldest. “There will be a storm. It will give us time.”
“But the city still lives,” the youngest protested. “We have food. There could be another way.”
The oldest studied the encircling army, far below them. “We are trapped. There are twenty thousand of our people in the city, my brother. They cannot all escape as we can.” He waited for the reluctant nod of agreement, then issued his orders.
“Summon your lieutenants. Spread the word. Tell the people to bring nothing. They will have no need of material things. Some will be afraid. They will need your guidance.
“Go. We will not meet again in this life, brothers.” He embraced each of them in turn, and they dispersed. The youngest lingered a moment, looking down at the city, and fixing in his mind all that would be lost.
The antagonists are not as vibrant as the protagonists, and react in predictable ways to the obstacles that are in their way, however, when the story travels back in time, Lanka evokes a true sense of time and place, especially on the ships and in the Alps. A well drawn and fascinating part of the book details the auction of the mysterious Vagra. The reader will feel as if they are in the auction house as the tension builds. An example of Lanka’s marvelous description techniques can be seen during the action and adventure sequences in the return to Tsaparang.
The plot twists and turns, with multiple points of view, although the central trio of Jack, Ashley and Peter form the overall structure of the book. Secondary characters are well defined and described along with the powers that have been given them through generations.
Overall, The Hutong Boy, Jack Lanka’s debut novel, is a fascinating glimpse into the spiritual and mystical, coupled with a rousing adventure tale. It’s about love, redemption and what lies beyond. Very satisfying.
Originally published at medium.com