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Jinx Kindle Edition
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For the same reasons, too: the characterization, worldbuilding and actual writing are all top-notch, and as icing on the cake, there’s a good bit of biting commentary on what I hesitate to call the human condition because doesn’t that sound stuffy, but still.
“What it [the Urwald, the enchanted forest] isn’t, good Jinx, is a nation. And that means it’s waiting to be taken over by anyone clever enough to try.”
That really caught me, because it’s quite clear from real history that one of the first and most important roles of a nation as it gets established is to defend its own people against conquest or slave raids by outsiders. I didn’t expect to see a line like that in a MG fantasy.
And let me just add that Reven is one creepy guy and I was personally rooting for the nixies, but we’ll see how that plotline works out, I guess.
Jinx himself is a great character with unique strengths and definite weaknesses – he’s interesting as well as sympathetic. I really enjoyed not only the way he can see people’s feelings, but also the way that this ability interfered at first with him learning to judge people’s intentions the way the rest of us do – by reading subtle body language and stuff. That was really clever.
The writing is clever, too, on so many levels.
So this was the Bonemaster! The wizard of horrible tales and bottle-shaped fears. He looked almost kindly. The things boiling in clouds around his head said he wasn’t, though. The pink clouds had knives in them. Jinx had never seen anyone whose feelings came out in cutlery before.
And later –
“But the Bonemaster’s evil,” [said Elfwyn.]
“I know that,” said Jinx. “But he can tell me what Simon’s done to me. I mean, he’d know if anybody would, right? He’s the expert.”
“But the Bonemaster sucks people’s souls out with a straw.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“He sucks the marrow from people’s bones and stacks them up crisscross.”
“He pries people’s eyeballs out and strings them to make necklaces.”
The Bonemaster really is evil. He actually does suck out people’s souls and stack up their bones crisscross, as you might guess since we already know he has thoughts like cutlery.
But is Simon actually an evil wizard, too? I mean, Simon is the wizard who saves Jinx from being abandoned in the forest and eaten by trolls . . . but *is* Simon evil? I love Simon; he’s my favorite character. He may or may not be evil, but he’s certainly brusque and irascible and self-absorbed. Also kind at unexpected moments, and the bit after Jinx falls off the cliff, well.
And I love Simon for the way he nails down uncomfortable truths: “Well, if you never in your life find yourself making excuses for things you know are wrong, wonderful.” And again, later, “What, you’d rather be admired than useful? Plenty of people are neither.”
There, you see what I mean about capturing truths about the human condition? Simon is cynical enough to deliver lines like that. Oh, yeah, I’m a big fan of Simon. Even though he may be a little bit evil. You know, I just realized, if Simon is evil, it’s something he knows about himself; if Reven is evil, it’s because he is totally oblivious to everything and everyone that doesn’t line up with his own personal ambition — Reven is totally the hero of his own tale because he’s never been wrong about anything in his life. I really dislike Reven, if you can’t tell.
You can see how interesting and complex the secondary characters are. Readers could debate for ages about the nature of evil after reading these books. Or the role of knowledge in a society — I haven’t even mentioned the world of Samara. I’m starting to think these books should be assigned in school; there are great jostling hordes of discussion topics embedded in the stories.
Did I mention everyone in this story seems to be suffering from a permanent curse of one kind or another? (I’m exaggerating … I think.) It’s obvious to the reader what Elfwyn’s curse is; hers is my favorite: she has to answer any question she’s asked, and she has to answer it truthfully. This could be played broadly, but in fact it’s handled with unusual subtlety. I just love how Elfwyn takes control of her curse and uses it to her own advantage. You probably know how much I like a character who is coolly practical. So it’s no surprise that I love Elfwyn, who is all, “Well, I have to get him used to taking a hot posset at bedtime in case I decide to poison him.” Hah!
I don’t want to belabor this because it would take forever to go through them all, but there’re a lot of important secondary characters in these books and they’re pretty much all well-drawn and complex and a real pleasure to encounter.
There are also an increasing number of loose threads as we go through the second book – the werewolf Malthus (entertaining name for a werewolf). Those spooky elves and whatever they’re up to. Reven’s plans are just really alarming. The Preceptress; is she really going to simply accept that Jinx shut the Urwald away from Samara? And MOST OF ALL, that thing with Simon. To me, that part reads as a cliffhanger – a rather slow-motion cliffhanger, granted.
My personal suggestion is, read the first book now to decide whether you’re going to like the stories (I bet you will). Then pick up the second book and set it aside until the third comes out, or else you will be fretting over that third book.
Jinx lives in what looks at first to be a terrible world; he loses both of his parents (dead or missing) in early childhood, and some step-parents as well; by the time we meet him he's living with a new set of step-parents, to whom he's barely connected, and who are so desperately poor that they plan to leave him in the forest to die in order to be able to feed their new baby. Needless to say, things don't turn out that way (or this would be a very short book). He meets up with Simon the maybe-not-evil wizard... and revealing anything more would involve spoilers.
Jinx, Simon, and the other characters - especially Sophie, Reven, Elfwyn, and Dame Glammer, all think and act - unlike too many characters in children's fantasy novels - just as real people in the same situation might think and act. The story's main villain, the Bonemaster, is clearly Evil with a capital E (as Jinx points out to Reven, he has a bridge made of human bones) - but what's less clear is what it means to be Good. The characters are united in their opposition to the Bonemaster (most of the time), but when left to their own devices their goals and beliefs are often at odds. But there's nothing didactic or preachy about the presentation of these quandaries; this is a very witty book, inspiring frequent smiles. (I'd love to give examples here, but, well, spoilers.)
It might be tempting to compare Jinx with Harry Potter as another story with an orphan boy and two sidekicks, discovering a whole new world of magic. The story does start off a little slow, from the confused point of view of a lonely child. As Jinx grows and strikes out on his own adventures, and as the back story of Urwald and the political tensions of the surrounding kingdoms is revealed layer by layer, the uniqueness of Blackwood's saga becomes completely addictive. The sophistication of this imaginative world rivals some of the best in adult fantasy. The characters are compelling, and their bonds are palpable. Indeed, I am as drawn by these fascinating characters and their relationships with one another as I am by the story.
Jinx is a splendid introduction to a world I would love to visit again as soon as the next book hits the shelves. There HAS to be a next book. Although it is targeting the middle school age group, I highly recommend this book for kids of all ages.