The Sixteen Burdens by David Khalaf is the incredible first novel in a series about a fantastical alternate Old Hollywood. The stars of yesteryear weren’t just talented, they possessed supernatural abilities, and now they’re being kidnapped. Gray Studebaker – a street urchin who sells map to the stars – discovers the stars’ secret, and aims to save them from a nefarious adversary who is trying to steal their talents in order to create an unstoppable army.
The main thing to say about this book is: Wow. This is the kind of book you hope will get attention, so please pay attention! The novel is inventive, well-written and researched, and well-designed, down to the author’s website. Gray is a likable rough-hewn protagonist, and the premise that talents are superpowers is an intriguing idea. The amount of historical detail is impressive and woven perfectly into this Hollywood Fantasy.
The main knock against Sixteen Burdens is that though it is marketed as a Young Adult novel, it’s more about a teenager than something that would necessarily appeal to young adults. Names like David Selznick or Mary Pickford may evoke feelings to readers of a certain age, but they’re likely to be fairly meaningless to many readers under 20. So, much of the colorful Old Hollywood mood and meaning would be lost. However, for older readers more able to immerse themselves, there is a great amount to enjoy in this stellar new trilogy.