by Sage Blackwood
First sentence: “In the Urwald you grow up fast or not at all.”
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The setting: the Urwald, a forest of no uncertain danger. There are trolls, werewolves, witches, and wizards out there and no one — NO ONE — left the Path unless they were asking for trouble. Needless to say, there is magic here. The Urwald has no king, and belongs to no country, in spite of what the two neighboring kingdoms seem to think.
The main character: Jinx, a boy who lives in one of the clearings, being raised by his stepparents (mother died; dad remarried; dad died; stepmother remarried), who don’t particularly want him. So, his stepfather takes him off the path, presumably to leave him there. Except they run into Simon, a wizard of some power. He’s not as Powerful (or Evil) as the Bonemaster (whom, everyone knows, sucks your soul out with a straw), but he’s powerful enough to stop Jinx’s stepdad and take Jinx as a sort of serving boy/apprentice.
The other characters: One of the most delightful things about this enchanting novel were the characters. There is the mysterious, yet somehow comforting, Simon and his spitfire wife, Sophie. There’s the cackling witch (I swear I could hear her) Dame Glammer, who traveled by butter churn. There were the friends (of sorts) that Jinx met when he finally (not that I minded the set up; it was so cleverly imagined) got around to Questing, Reven (whose curse was that he could not say who he was) and Elfwyn (whose curse is that she always has to tell the Truth). And then there was the Urwald itself, written in such a way to be a character in itself.
It’s not an action-packed page-turner of a middle grade fantasy, and I appreciated that. It was a slow reveal, a world to revel in, characters to enjoy a journey with. And if there’s a sequel, I will happily follow Jinx through whatever adventure he has next.