Thursday, September 14, 2023

Review: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft


The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft
Publication Date: September 26th, 2023
Paperback. 386 pages.

About The Hexologists:

"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 whatever springs from the alleys, graves, and shadows next.

Ever since finishing the masterful Books of Babel series, I've been desperately awaiting more from Josiah Bancroft, and I was incredible excited when I first saw The Hexologists announced. This is a book on a much smaller scale than that of The Books of Babel, but it certainly isn't lacking in any substance or heart. There's something almost cozy about the 'whodunnit' vibes of The Hexologists, and I think it's this that initially drew me into the story (outside of Bancroft's immensely readable and engrossing prose), and what kept me there were the delightful characters and spellbinding world and plot. 

The Hexologists hits the ground running and doesn't spend an excessive amount of time introducing readers to the characters or setting before diving right into the meat of the story. The first chapter features Isolde and Warren taking on a new assignment and dealing with a rather unexpected intrusion into their home, and the story does not slow down from there. Given that this is a shorter book, I think this consistent pacing worked really well for the story and maintained a really nice balance between world-building, character development, and information and actual plot movement. That being said, I might have liked getting to know the characters just a bit more before really diving into things, but I think Bancroft made up for that by having such solid development of them throughout the rest of the book.

Isolde and Warren, the Hexologists themselves, are essentially two 'detectives' and make up a very interesting, likable, and relatable couple and I absolutely loved seeing together. They're somewhat eccentric in their own ways, but eccentric in all the best ways and proved to be great people to follow through a variety of ups and downs. I loved how cynical they could be and their awareness of the ways in which the world around them works. Both hold very strong principles that I think were highlighted and exemplified well through their actions throughout the course of this book, and I really appreciated seeing such principled characters in a story. I think a lot of books out there are written with younger characters that are often still discovering who they are, so I appreciated following two more middle aged characters who seem already set in their ways and understanding of who they are what they believe in, but also who are still open to learning new things.. Our characters had backbones made of steel and weren't afraid to say no to an offer or someone asking them to do something they don't want to. 

All of the characters in this book are extremely well-developed no matter how big or small their role; the supporting cast is so incredibly colorful and full of life. This felt like the type of book where even if you aren't enjoying the story itself, you're probably going to be enjoying your time with the characters enough to keep things interesting. I hate to use the work 'quirky' sometimes to describe characters because it can be overused and misused, but there really are some quirky personalities in this books that really made it something special. Morality of characters ranges from the good to the mediocre to the bad and to everything few and far between all of those, so if you're here for a wide variety of characters, you're in a good place.

The world-building is limited to one particular city that we mostly spend our time with, and within that city is some expansive world-building that provides plenty to sink your teeth into. As previously mentioned, we meet a huge variety of characters within this world, all of whom have a variety of unique jobs, ways of life, and even ways of interacting with different types of magic. There's also a huge variety of different magical beings and creatures that Isolde and Warren cross paths with–some by choice, others... not so much–and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them all. It's a very rich, vivid world that is full of depth; you're always learning something new about it, from minor details to the different class structures that make up the people of the city.

I would consider this akin to a "dark cozy mystery," if such a thing exists. This story is fully of imaginative elements and embodies a classic 'investigative' feel to it, but it also explores a lot of dark topics and themes, as well as explores many of the darker underbellies of the city that aren't exactly 'cozy' in the way most people probably mean. If you loved The Books of Babel as much as I did and you've been feeling lost without more of Bancroft's witty and compelling writing, then I think The Hexologists should definitely satiate that desire. If you didn't like his previous series or are new to Bancroft, then I think you'll love immersing yourself in this new fantasy world full of different types of magic and things to discover. 

Overall, I've given The Hexologists five stars! I have very high hopes for a sequel that I would anticipate (and hope!) explores even more about this world and characters we've met. I cannot wait to see what's next!

*I received a copy of The Hexologists courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

1 comment:

  1. This sounds amazing! I couldn't fit it into my September reading but maybe I'll try to read it before the next book comes out.