REVIEW: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft
The Hexologists, Iz and Warren Wilby, are quite accustomed to helping desperate clients with the bugbears of city life. Aided by hexes and a bag of charmed relics, the Wilbies have recovered children abducted by chimney-wraiths, removed infestations of barb-nosed incubi, and ventured into the Gray Plains of the Unmade to soothe a troubled ghost. Well-acquainted with the weird, they never shy away from a challenging case.
But when they are approached by the royal secretary and told the king pleads to be baked into a cake—going so far as to wedge himself inside a lit oven—the Wilbies soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery that could very well see the nation turned on its head. Their effort to expose a royal secret buried under forty years of lies brings them nose to nose with a violent anti-royalist gang, avaricious ghouls, alchemists who draw their power from a hell-like dimension, and a bookish dragon who only occasionally eats people.
Armed with a love toughened by adversity and a stick of chalk that can conjure light from the darkness, hope from the hopeless, Iz and Warren Wilby are ready for a case that will test every spell, skill, and odd magical artifact in their considerable bag of tricks.
Dear Mr. Bancroft,
I wasn’t quite sure what this was going to turn out to be but the blurb was so intriguing that I knew I wanted to find out. To be honest, this is a book that takes time to get into and rewards the effort. The payoff is a long time in coming but it arrives with a wallop as the many and varied strings are tied together. And kudos for having main characters who are subject to making mistakes rather than being perfect.
Hmmm, where to begin? I’m afraid the answer is that I can’t. Whoever wrote the burb managed a much better job than I can do. When I began reading, I thought based on the page count that it wouldn’t take me too long to finish the book. I was wrong. There is so much here, so much plot, so many characters, so many twists and turns that require concentration and attention to catch and remember so that when these things come into play later one, a reader can say “Ah, ha! That’s why that was there.”
“The Hexologists” is written in a leisurely writing style. The background and world building are relayed via slight side steps from the action before heading back in. The truth is that I usually don’t care for this as I feel it derails the forward momentum of the plot. I got more used to it though. It’s very descriptive but also amusing so I didn’t mind the verbosity.
Iz and War are well defined married main characters – with joyous and active though offscreen sex lives. They are two different sides of a coin. Iz is withdrawn, driven, and somewhat lacking in the social graces when she’s on an investigation. Warren is open, generous, smiling, gathering friends wherever he goes. They are utterly devoted to each other and would, I feel, go to the depths of hell to save the other.
Iz and War’s house (originally Iz’s family’s. War also chooses to take her last name upon their marriage) is pure Victorian decoration while the city is Edwardian steampunk in a pseudo British-ish setting. Of great fun is a Mary Poppins style carpet bag but one full of much more interesting and sometimes dangerous things. Worlds can be stored in it and a dragon lives in it. Turdus Felivox is educated (he’s read a great deal of the papers and books that Iz’s father put in it), well spoken, and once his palate has been expanded beyond a goat, he’s on his way to being a budding epicurean. He also has decided opinions on man kind and how they have dealt with dragons.
Running through the story is a great deal of social commentary that I feel is directed towards much of what is going on in the world today. Iz is a decided anti-royalist and only takes this case in order to possibly embarrass the monarchy. Aristocrats are also on her list of villains. There is a group (mentioned in the plot) who I thought might take more of an active role but alas, they don’t. This is somewhat made up for by a character and his “social experiment” that is enough to turn your blood cold. Given all this, I can’t say I was surprised by the ending. I will say that there was a definite tinge of fear Iz and War have regarding what they uncovered that appears to be brushed aside before a new adventure jumps at them which is “to be continued.” This story plot is wound up – mostly I guess – and I look forward to seeing what the Wilbys will be up to next and what they’ll face. B