The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island by Scott Semegran
Humans are sentimental creatures. So it makes sense that nostalgia would be a great tool in a novelist’s toolbox. What a handy device for leading readers down a path of emotional twists and turns! But in the wrong hands, such a tool can result in some pretty cringeworthy writing. We fans of Scott Semegran have come to trust our author to escort us right up to that wistful precipice without pushing us over the edge. In his latest novel – The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island – Semegran takes us on a sentimental journey into one of his favorite nostalgic worlds.
That world is 1980s Americana as it was manifested in the suburbs and environs of Central Texas. This was that pre-digital era before every kid had his or her face glued to a cellphone, back when Pac Man, E.T., and junk food ruled the day. Semegran’s cast of characters is made up of a diverse group of adolescent boys bound together by friendship. There’s nothing these guys won’t do for one another. They’re guided by a code of honor that can only exist in the youthful minds of the not-yet-jaded, that same heroic pact as practiced by the Justice League comic book heroes they so admire and try to emulate. Good thing, since the adventure these boys are about to embark on will call upon every heroic bone in their awkward, adolescent bodies.
The story is told by the main character William as a grown man recalling a summer calamity he and his buddies barely survived years ago. One suspects that William is Semegran thinly guised, a suspicion more or less confirmed in the book’s epilogue. The style employed by the author is familiar and easygoing, almost conversational, as if he is speaking directly to the reader as a friend. At one moment we are listening to the wise thoughts of the older William, and then in the next instant we are hurling through the very escapades that helped shape that wisdom. After a run-in with a gang of older toughs, William the boy finds himself in possession of a backpack full of… well, full of some pretty interesting stuff. The problem is, the pack belongs to Bloody Billy, the gang’s cruel leader, and he wants it back. What’s more, Billy’s not the kind of guy to forgive and forget. William and his friends are in mortal danger. To escape the wrath of Bloody Billy and his goons, the boys finagle a way to outsmart their parents and escape town to hide out in an abandoned house on a remote lake. It’s the perfect scene for a mystery/crime, and although the boys think they are being brilliant by sneaking away, they are inadvertently placing themselves in an even more dangerous situation than they could ever have imagined. The forward-pulling suspense of the story is built on their efforts to dodge and weave through the many deadly traps they encounter. The last of these perils is Sometimes Island. At this point, the story becomes a survival tale about boyish heroism. The whole journey is a Lord of the Flies redux, but instead of featuring a group of castaways who turn malicious and sadistic, Semegran’s boys transcend to a level of courage and selflessness that is uplifting, even downright heartwarming.
Sometimes it’s just fun to be carried away by a good old-fashioned adventure story. Scott Semegran’s The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island fits that bill nicely. It’s an enjoyable ride that will be sure to transport the reader into a fully realized world created by a master of humor, suspense, and nostalgia.