In Titus Murphy’s debut novel, Black Oak (Cosby Media Productions), something dark is lurking in the woods of Wichita, Kansas. This quaint Midwestern town has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed in recent years. But unbeknownst to the townsfolk, that violence was just the beginning. Something bigger is brewing on the horizon — something magical and dangerous.
Black Oak is the first book in The Loveless Chronicles, and Murphy starts the series off with a bang. The reader is thrown into the middle of a supernatural conflict between witches and Jackals — werewolf-like creatures with the ability to transform at will, without the need for a full moon. The battlefield is the Black Oak forest, in the year 1782. There we learn of the reason for the carnage; the fight is over a legendary spell book that the witches have sworn to protect. In the hands of the Jackals, the destruction would stretch past Kansas and soon overtake the American mainland.
Murphy’s story stretches across centuries, from 1782 to 1815 to modern day. A magical through-line connects each generation, as the guardians of the spell book try to outrun their pursuers. By the time we reach the modern day, both sides are desperate to end this bloody conflict once and for all.
LOCAL LEGENDS COMING TRUE
In modern-day Wichita, Mark isn’t thinking about werewolves as he drives down the Kansas highway. A truck driver coming back from his latest delivery, Mark is only concerned with his upcoming date with Sharon, the woman who works at the local mom-and-pop store. But on his drive through the night, Mark swears that he sees something moving between the trees. And again, as he drives Sharon back from their date, something lurks in the woods just beyond the road.
For generations, the people around the Black Oak forest have told stories of creatures prowling the forest. Mark always thought those were just old legends, told to scare kids and keep them from getting into trouble. Now, though, Mark is having doubts.
Titus Murphy creates an unsettling atmosphere in the novel, filling every character with foreboding as they struggle to understand what’s stalking the townspeople. The author’s use of multiple timelines only adds to this suspense, showing the reader exactly what can happen if the citizens of Wichita don’t figure out the danger they’re in. In past centuries, that realization came too late, and the consequences were deadly. Now, as history repeats itself, the reader knows that Mark has limited time to figure out the truth. Otherwise, the Jackals will descend on Wichita and rip the town to shreds in search of the spell book.
Murphy’s choice to keep the characters in the dark about the existence of Jackals only adds to the suspense. The book reads like a thriller novel, with the characters struggling to rationalize the cryptid-like creature they’ve seen in their peripheral vision.
With the magical setting of the Black Oak forest in the background, readers will be entranced by the complicated lives the characters lead, and how they all tie into the otherworldly plot. Murphy weaves magic into the environment of modern-day Kansas, making Black Oak a truly enchanting read.
*Trigger warning: contains scenes of violence and sexual assault.