The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft

the hexologists by josiah bancroft

Official Author Website
Buy The Hexologists here – U.S. | U.K.

Read Caitlin’s review of the book 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, in the U.S. and on September 28th, 2023 in the U.K. 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: The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft is a vividly imaginative start to a historical-esque steampunk fantasy series that features a married couple who solve magical mysteries.

I’ve only read the first book in Josiah Bancroft’s babel series, and I quite enjoyed it. I wasn’t thrilled, and I can’t help but feel like this is more a case of a good story in the hands of the wrong reader. It’s one of those rare books that made me feel like it could be a bit longer to try to detail out everything it wanted to, but then, I wanted it to be trimmed down to the bone at places. My feelings for this are all over the place, so put on your seatbelts for this review is going to be a bit of a ride.

Isolde and Warren Wilby are a couple of professional sleuths who solve magical mysteries. One day, they receive a request from the royal secretary to look into something. The king has gone nuts and insists on being baked into a cake, and the best medical minds around are unable to cure him of his absurdity. There’s also a letter trying to blackmail him, and their task is to find the truth behind it, and to understand if there’s a link between the two. What follows is their quest for the truth interrupted by tons of magical creatures, oddities, and a lot of tender and exciting moments as they try to get themselves out of sticky situations.

I can be a picky reader, I’m difficult to hook, but this one pulled me in with its opening chapter. But, Bancroft’s prose can be wordy and winding, and there were places in the book where I felt like a stronger editor who insisted on getting to the point would’ve benefitted me as a reader. It’s not a long book, but feels like one. The beginning of chapters could take forever to talk about a character’s past, or their relationships, or how they gained some skills, and while I was intrigued by them, I found that I had gotten sucked into the first few pages and lost sight of what was happening in the present, or that I simply cared more about one part of the narration more than the other, making re-calibration a bit jarring. It took some work to get myself to read a few chapters every day, and no one is more surprised than I am, that I was through it by release day, especially after a particularly difficult section in the middle. If you’re a reader like me, but still want to pick this up, there’s a bit of a recap worked into the plot that might help.

Now, for the good bits. The irony in my reading experience was that while the prose can be a bit much for my style, I recognise that the author definitely has a gift for words, and uses phrases and metaphors gleefully in unexpected ways, and I did find myself admiring some of them. I particularly enjoyed the strange way in which Isolde’s temperament was described, as well as the immersive detail provided about the city of Berbiton, where the novel is set. It was equally nice to see the relationship between Isolde and Warren, though she got the lion’s share of the attention. I connected to her in many ways (let me be honest, I’m not exactly known for my patience or ability to proritize tact over logic), but gentle, nurturing, supportive Warren truly stole my heart. As for them getting out of sticky situations on their quest to discover answers, there are a variety of magical creatures and oddities to make the ride entertaining. The end is satisfactory and wraps up the mystery quite well, but leaves enough to warrant a return to the whimsical life of the couple.

CONCLUSION: While I don’t regret the time I spent reading this book, it was still a strangely long time, given its pagelength. There were definitely times that made it a slog, and if you ask me if I’d pick up the next, I’d say that only time will tell. This is a book I’d recommend to a very particular kind of reader, one that won’t mind winding narration and loves side quests as much as the main one. In the right reader’s hands, I suspect this will be a big hit. If the warmth and whimsy makes you curious, give it a shot.

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