Jinx is a child of the Urwald, a great forest full of monsters and magic. People live in isolated clearings, where they are occasionally visited by witches hopping along in butter churns, and trolls and werewolves lie in wait for anyone foolish enough to step off the paths. The Urwald is a place where you have to grow up fast or not at all; the sort of place where there are often more children than there is food to feed them. This is why Jinx’s stepfather takes Jinx off the path and into the forest when he is just six years old…but it’s the stepfather who doesn’t make it out alive. Simon, a mysterious magician, turns up just in time to save Jinx, but not his stepfather, from a vicious troll attack.
And so Jinx’s life becomes one of magic, and danger, and a heck of a lot bigger and wider than the tiny clearing where he was born. His travels take him from Simon’s home, which is full of cats and magic and homemade pie, to the foreign land of Samara, a place where knowledge can be made into real magical power, and then to the edge of the great forest and to the realm of the elves beneath its roots. These journeys, during which Jinx learns to use his magic and confronts evils both human and magical, make for page-turning excitement.
In Jinx’s Fire, the final book of the series, which was just released in March, Jinx is faced with an almost overwhelming series of challenges. Simon has been imprisoned by an evil wizard known as the Bonemaster, who is using his deathforce magic to siphon away the lifeforce magic of the forest. At the same time, the rulers of other neighboring kingdoms are waging war against each other, and one of the prizes they are fighting for is the Urwald (for its land and timber). Already the clearings have been invaded, and acres of trees have been felled, and the Urwald is not happy about this at all. Jinx, who hears the pain of the trees, and who depends on the lifeforce of the forest for his own power, must put a stop to both the Bonemaster and the tree-cutting invaders.
The latter is a particularly difficult task, because the Urwald’s insular inhabitants have no concept of themselves as a united nation; Jinx’s first task is to convince them that they are facing a common threat. Trolls and werewolves join the humans in an uneasy alliance, but before the invaders can be driven off, Jinx must turn his attention to the Bonemaster, and the focus of the story shifts to a magical struggle beneath the Glass mountains, where lies the Nadir of all things, and then to Boonsocket Castle to free Simon and the other lives the Bonemaster has captured.
It says much for Sage Blackwood’s storytelling that she can take all this complexity and tie it altogether into a coherent, captivating narrative. The character of Jinx is what holds it all together–throughout all the action and adventure, the focus is on Jinx as a person; a boy who’s growing up, recognizing his weaknesses (tact is not a strong point), and learning to use his gifts of magic. He’s forced to make hard choices of moral complexity, and compelled to keep trying, even when things get very difficult indeed.
Sage Blackwood’s trilogy is a great choice for the kid who loves fantasy adventure. There’s considerable humor to balance the darkness, lots of great secondary characters, thought-provoking philosophical questions, vivid descriptions, and a strong sense of place. All of these things, along with Jinx’s appealing character, make this series one of the strongest in the crowded field of contemporary middle grade fantasy adventures.
Have you read Sage Blackwood’s Jinx trilogy?