Review: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft

 

Buy The Hexologists HERE
OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Josiah Bancroft is the author of five novels, a collection of short fiction, and numerous poems. His books have been translated into eight languages. Before settling down to write fantasy full-time, he was a college instructor, rock musician, and aspiring comic book artist. When he’s not writing, he enjoys strumming a variety of stringed instruments, drawing with a growing cache of imperfect pens, and cooking without a recipe. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sharon, their daughter, Maddie, and their two rabbits, Mabel and Chaplin.


FORMAT/INFO:
The Hexologists was published by Orbit Books on September 26th, 2023. It is told in third person from the POV of Iz and Warren Wilby. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook format.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Warren and Iz Wilby are the Hexologists, a pair of investigators who use Iz’s skill at drawing and casting hexes to solve whatever problems their clients bring them. This time, however, their client is the royal secretary, who comes with a troubling problem. The king, it seems, has become determined to be baked alive, trying to climb into whatever oven he can find. And as this behavior began when he received a mysterious letter, the secretary can only assume that the king is troubled by a secret from his past. As Iz and Warren begin to investigate who sent the letter and the king’s history, they encounter many strange facets of the kingdom, from ghostly museums to deadly sorcerers, imps who catalogue bones and dragons who only occasionally eat humans. But someone else is on their trail too, someone who wants the king’s past to stay buried – and isn’t above killing to keep it that way.

The Hexologists is a delightful romp of a fantasy mystery, one that uses its premise to explore various weird and fantastical situations in the world of Berbiton. It’s refreshing to see a happily married couple at the center of a story; I enjoyed watching a duo who were used to each other’s quirks and moods, who operated like a well-oiled machine but also knew when to give each other space. Iz is the more logically driven of the two, as well as the one trained in the art of hexology, which requires precise drawing of sigils to call forth magic. Warren, on the other hand, is the affable muscle, one equally as likely to get them past a guard with his jovial charm as with his fist.

Together, Iz and Warren poke around the various corners of Berbiton, a fantasy world that shares a lot of touchstones with England and Europe around the turn of the twentieth century. Here, however, magic is commonplace, and pollution is caused by the burning of demonic coals as they are processed into a power source. Themes around the excess of the upper class at the expense of the struggling lower class ring throughout (and while important, occasionally in a manner a little too preachy as characters lecture royalty and nobles). All of this gives readers a familiar landscape, but one that is juuust slightly tilted on its head.

The make or break for many readers will be the distinctive writing style, which readers of Bancroft’s The Books of Babel series will recognize. I found the author’s writing to be charming and whimsical, especially as he occasionally veers into a tangent explaining this or that detail about the world. If, however, you don’t mesh with the writing in the first few pages, you’ll likely be better off picking up a different book.

CONCLUSION: The Hexologists is an especially wonderful story for those who care more about the ride than the destination. While there are plenty of reveals and twists in the mystery itself, the true joy is in watching how the Wilby’s investigate the steps along the way. Will they use a hex to clarify long faded text? Journey to a ghostly underworld to peer into the mind of a witness long-deceased? Consult with a strange magical creature? The answer is yes to all of these, and it was my eagerness to see all these weird things that truly carried me forward. In short, The Hexologists has introduced me to an engaging new pair of sleuths, and I look forward to seeing them solve new magical mysteries in future adventures.

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