Jinx lives with his stepparents in a clearing in the middle of a big scary forest - the kind where you don't step off The Path (emphasis theirs) unless you want to be eaten by a werebear or carried off by a troll. When food gets scarce, however, that's exactly where Jinx ends up: way off The Path, as his stepfather leads him into the forest and attempts to abandon him. Fortunately (or is it!), he's purchased (well, kind of) by a passing wizard and employed as a dogsbody and eventual apprentice. And so begin Jinx's adventures in the freshest fantasy of the year so far.
I often star my books on Goodreads before I go back and organize my reviewing thoughts. In this case, I gave it four stars. Not a perfect book, but so awfully fun. Looking back over my notes, though, I see the kind of flaws that usually lead to a three star review from me. The language is occasionally jarring in its incongruousness with the fantasy setting - people being addressed as "man," "you guys," and so forth. I was reminded of Kristin Cashore's 2010 Horn Book article about writing consistent fantasy language.
In several places, the plot steps over the line of believability as well. The Bonemaster's SUPER EVIL SOURCE OF ALL POWER sure was minimally protected, wasn't it? He's cocky and overconfident, but if he were that stupid I have a hard time believing he would have amassed quite so many bones. And Jinx never would have ended up in the Bone Socket in the first place if Simon just communicated a little more effectively. Some of that is consistent with Simon's character, but some of it felt forced.
Let's back up for a moment, though: the Bone Socket! What an excellent name. There is an evil wizard named the Bone Master who lives in an evil castle called the Bone Socket, which is, in turn, in the middle of a sentient forest called the Urwald. Which is populated by witches who ride around in butter churns and curmudgeonly wizards who bake pumpkin pies. So, ultimately, who cares how Jinx gets where he goes? Certainly not your child readers. They will be too busy clamoring for the next volume in the series.
I usually care more about those things too, but tonally, this book is precisely my cup of tea. Simultaneously cozy and spooky, it calls to mind the works of Diana Wynne-Jones, JK Rowling, and a host of other beloved British fantasy authors. We don't have a lot of authors like that in American lit - John Bellairs is the only one who comes to mind. Hence my four star rating. Jinx is not a perfect book, but its characters are so likeable (or delightfully despicable) and its world is so well-realized that it completely won me over.
Published in January by HarperCollins