Harper (HarperCollins), 2013
Hardcover, 360 pages.
In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magnus. […] But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat. –publisher’s copy.
Jinx seems aptly named, those who would be his caretaker do not appear to survive it. But as with most occasions in the novel, lies are spun and perceptions skewed. Situations and people are difficult to read–even for a peculiarly gifted Jinx.
In a world of magic such as the kind we find in tales/lore, we learn that the greatest power is actually knowledge. Jinx’s access to learning–whether by apprentice, books, or first-hand experience–creates a dramatic shift in the boy over the course of the novel. That knowledge is power is evidenced in other ways, and the means in which it is acquired is of explored as well.
So Jinx has good take-aways, but it is also an absorbing adventure. When we first meet Jinx he is a child, quite vulnerable and left up to ‘fate’, but he becomes more and more self-determining, aware and curious. One of the things I enjoy with middle-grade/juvenile fiction is they are not burdened with the bildungsroman of teen fiction. Their heroes are still on the journey of becoming, they needn’t become sufficient in every way necessary to be viewed as an adult (autonomous). I do not have to expect Jinx to be more than a boy still figuring out his magic—if he has any; or how he is meant to deal with the adults in his life. The world can still harbor glorious mystery, and danger. In the Urwald, Jinx experiences close escapes and troubling captivities, to say nothing of that witch Dame Glammer.
The lore in the novel is fantastic, negotiating fibs and encountering horribly true creatures. The curses are particularly enjoyable, and while some tale/lore aspects will feel more original to the tale than others, Jinx is undeniably Blackwood’s. It is the sort of story I love, enjoying the influences of old tales/lore and crafting your own. Jinx is also a bit dark, of the sort of uncomfortable realities we find in tales/lore.
Blackwood moves the story in a pace that never lingers too long and covers quite a bit of time and yet it’s hardly racing. The world is there and references to how things are for this person or that place are made, some more quietly relevant than others. There were paragraphs that threw me a bit there at the first (awkward sequences, strange paragraphing). Maybe it was myself and the author becoming acquainted. Nevertheless, I was easy swept back up and along. The first parts to the first chapters were especially inviting, however, it really is the imagination that is the strength in Jinx–in world and story (not a bit of the plot felt contrived). The characters are singularly lovely, down to the most minor and repulsive. Jinx’s nausea is delightful, as is Reven’s curse and Elfwyn’s red hood and pink clouds. Simon and Sophie were particular favorites in concept and interaction.
They do not seem to care to write “book one” on these things, but Jinx leaves some lines unresolved for a sequel. It is has the cliffhanger, and yet not. It could stand alone, though you wouldn’t care for it to. Basically Blackwood tantalizes the reader with promises of more adventures, and mysteries, and even some really good humor—Jinx has a wry wit to accompany the comedy in his bouts squeamishness and incredulity. I am very much excited to see the return of Blackwood’s characters and imagination in the sequel—which I believe we can anticipate in January 2014.
recommendations: boys & girls, 8-12, who love the fairy tales, magical adventures involving wizards/witches and orphaned children. these are books others have associated with the read: Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. I found it to be something close to what Gail Carson Levine or Cornelia Funke would’ve concocted.
of note: I was sold on Jinx by Melissa’s review at The Book Nut (do check it out).