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Hexmaker (Hexworld) (Volume 2) Paperback – September 22, 2016
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Maybe it’s the setting – Gilded Age New York, a place that is very real to me, in spite of the overlay of magic. Hawk paints us an 1890s New York that is recognizable up to a point, and populates it with characters who echo the reality of this city’s complicated and often unpleasant social and cultural history.
The denizens of Hexworld are varied. We’ve met several of them before. The only thing they have in common is the Coven – the headquarters of the Municipal Witch Police. In a world where magic has existed as long as humankind, the development of and control of hexes – the universal vehicle of magic – is endless. That’s why Owen Reynard Yates, son and heir to one of Manhattan’s great fortunes, is a Forensic Hexman in the MWP. And that’s how he stumbles upon his familiar, Malachi, poor Irish slumdog and professional thief.
It’s in this second book that we learn something important: familiars don’t have the same social status as witches. So far, we’ve only dealt with witch cops and their familiars, the animal-shifter humans whose power is to amplify and activate the witch’s magic. But Yates is upper class, and comes from a world where familiars are expected to behave as pets, only allowed to be human when with the servants. In Owen’s world everything is about competition for social superiority; from building mansions and throwing lavish parties to collecting costly antiquities and marrying off your daughters to the most eligible bachelors. That Owen Yates has bonded with a lower-class Irish fox sends tremors along Fifth Avenue.
Thus we understand the constant anger of Nick, who runs a shelter for feral familiars in New York’s roughest neighborhood. In this page-turner of a second volume, we truly comprehend the class divisions that divide the rich from the poor, and the witch from the familiar. We also see a gay man forced into a loveless marriage in order to preserve his family’s social standing, and we come to appreciate how his bond with Malachi has potential to be far more than simply professional.
Oh, and then there’s a brutal murder to be solved, as if everything wasn’t complicated enough already. In the six days before Owen’s planned wedding, he and Malachi must uncover the motive for the murder, find the assassin and keep Malachi from being killed himself.
Hexworld is brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what the third book in the series will bring.
It helps that the author introduces us to a new Familiar (Malachai); any time a new main character is introduced into an ongoing series it helps the reader to see the world through new eyes. It also helps that the main witch of the story is a supporting character from the previous novel (Yates), so there's some tie back to the familiar. And of course it helps that both characters are interesting in their own right, well able to stand alongside the heroes of the previous stories (Dominic and Rook; Tom and Cicero) when, as I suspect inevitably will happen, they all need to work together against the larger enemy lurking behind the scenes.
In some respects, though, this is a darker book than the two that preceded it. Hinted at before, the issue of how Familiars are treated really takes center stage here and it makes for some very thought-provoking and disturbing scenes that were not easy to read. Not just because of what they imply in-world, but also for what they reveal about our real world. In the world of these books, being gay is still something you can be beaten up for, yes -- but there's a glimmer of acceptance, especially among the world of the Metropolitan Witch Police. But the folks who can shift from one form to another, the familiars -- they are looked down upon by "polite" society, ostracized and mistreated in a way that I can only parallel with the way trans* folk are looked down upon, ostracized and mistreated in our own world. Whether the author meant the allegory to be obvious or not, I don't know, but I picked up on it and so felt I had to comment on it. We have a long way to go in the real world, and so it seems does the society of Hexworld.
I'm really looking forward to where this series is going. This is yet another strong installment of the on-going story, and the Hexworld books and characters are quickly becoming equal to Hawk's "Whyborne and Griffin" series in my eyes.
(Appropos of nothing, but also worth noting for those who read both Hawk's and KJ Charles' characters: as I was reading the Mal-Yates sex scenes, I could not help but "hear" Mal's voice as that of Silas from Charles' Society of Gentlemen audiobooks. Did this happen to anyone else?)
Jordan Hawk created a fascinating world in Hexbreaker, and this book capitalizes on that. I feel like all of the things that left me feeling so-so about the first book have been fixed here, and it makes Hexmaker an outstanding story.
Malachi is a fascinating character, and here we get a full picture of who he is and what his motivations are. Likewise we understand where Owen is coming from, and why he feels bound to make the decisions that he does. In both cases that allows the reader a degree of empathy that really helps make the story resonate. An important motivating factor here is class status, the haves and the have-nots, and the clashes between the two worlds.
One thing that I thought really made the story stand out was the book’s willingness to touch on themes other than the usual “guy meets guy then they jump into the sack.” Themes of dominance and submission and transsexuality are touched on but do not completely drive the story; they are handled intelligently and in a matter-of-fact manner that I found refreshing. Not to say that the fun in the sack wasn’t steamy as hell, because daaaayum! This was the perfect balance of plot and sexytime for my liking, though.
If I have any complaint about this book it’s that once the big reveals happen it gets a little tricky for the reader to connect all the dots, but it wasn’t as ridiculously convoluted as some that I’ve read. This in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story though. I happily recommend this book to all!