Yeah, I'm colossally late. Who's surprised by now.
Okay. Jinx. I picked this up initially because all there was on the spine was 'Blackwood' and I really, really hoped Gary Blackwood had a new book out. If he does, this isn't it, but it was still a really great book to pick out.
Jinx has a pretty basic premise, one I didn't have much hope for. I mainly kept it because, let's face it, that cover is gorgeous, and I was probably still subconsciously affected by the magical Blackwood surname. Here's the summary from Goodreads:
In the Urwald, you don't step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butterchurn riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving th epath - then he meets the wizard Simon Magus.
Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon's kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx's safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx's curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon's unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of the well-trod paths. But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic - and magicians - can be as dangerous as the forest, and soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.
Pretty simple. Or so it seems.
Jinx, for a book firmly in the children's section of the library, goes surprisingly deep into characterization - there aren't any blazing pieces of brilliance like Sydney Carton or Severus Snape, but Jinx, Simon, the Bonemaster, Sophie, and even characters I didn't think I'd like much were well-written. The story, too, dives off the expected end of "as-good-as orphan gets taken in by a wizard and learns that he's three times as powerful as anyone else after he beats the Big Bad."
Jinx has a great ability - a sixth sense, rather - of being able to see the thoughts of others as colored clouds of emotion. I love what Blackwood does with the ability - no spoilers, but the different twists and turns the story takes around this ability and around Jinx himself actually caught me by surprise. That's not easy to do. Simon and Sophie, too, are anything but cliché characters. (Even though they greatly reminded me of Howl's Moving Castle, down to Sophie's name - turns out Blackwood is a Diana Wynne Jones fan, and it shows by the way her plot/magic/character development works.) I could never really tell where either of them came from until the end, some good writing that actually made Jinx's conundrums feel real.
I was reading with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm until about halfway through. Then the story took another turn, in which Simon and Sophie greatly leave the picture, the story takes on a more adventurous turn, and two characters take Simon and Sophie's places - Reven the thief, and Elfwyn the granddaughter of a witch. I did not like Reven or Elfwyn. I wanted Sophie and Simon (especially Simon) back. Especially when Elfwyn started turning into your usual girl-with-two-boys-as-friends girl, an obnoxious, domineering sort that the boys tolerated because - well, they liked her for some reason.
But, as much as I hate to admit it, they did grow on me - a little. Their curses amused me. Reven, especially, with his antiquarian way of speech and his more interesting curse, got to be one of my favorites. They made suitable replacements for Simon and Sophie - logical ones, since Jinx couldn't have too much magic on his side, or everything would be too easy.
The book ends slowly, but in a good way. The climax occurs and then another sixty or so pages are dedicated to resolution - which is something I really enjoyed. Even if the ending as is dragged a bit, rushed would have been worse. And while I think Blackwood could have taken more time sewing up loose subplot ends, the main plot was magnificently concluded.
Jinx is a great book with a great main character and a great supporting cast and a great plot and I'm hoping for a sequel sometime. Definitely a recommendation.