I have to say, after reading the second of the Hexworld series, I think I like this world even better than I do Widdershins, the other magic-bound fantasy America created by Jordan L. Hawk.
Maybe it’s the setting – Gilded Age New York, a place that is very real to me, in spite of the overlay of magic. Hawk paints us an 1890s New York that is recognizable up to a point, and populates it with characters who echo the reality of this city’s complicated and often unpleasant social and cultural history.
The denizens of Hexworld are varied. We’ve met several of them before. The only thing they have in common is the Coven – the headquarters of the Municipal Witch Police. In a world where magic has existed as long as humankind, the development of and control of hexes – the universal vehicle of magic – is endless. That’s why Owen Reynard Yates, son and heir to one of Manhattan’s great fortunes, is a Forensic Hexman in the MWP. And that’s how he stumbles upon his familiar, Malachi, poor Irish slumdog and professional thief.
It’s in this second book that we learn something important: familiars don’t have the same social status as witches. So far, we’ve only dealt with witch cops and their familiars, the animal-shifter humans whose power is to amplify and activate the witch’s magic. But Yates is upper class, and comes from a world where familiars are expected to behave as pets, only allowed to be human when with the servants. In Owen’s world everything is about competition for social superiority; from building mansions and throwing lavish parties to collecting costly antiquities and marrying off your daughters to the most eligible bachelors. That Owen Yates has bonded with a lower-class Irish fox sends tremors along Fifth Avenue.
Thus we understand the constant anger of Nick, who runs a shelter for feral familiars in New York’s roughest neighborhood. In this page-turner of a second volume, we truly comprehend the class divisions that divide the rich from the poor, and the witch from the familiar. We also see a gay man forced into a loveless marriage in order to preserve his family’s social standing, and we come to appreciate how his bond with Malachi has potential to be far more than simply professional.
Oh, and then there’s a brutal murder to be solved, as if everything wasn’t complicated enough already. In the six days before Owen’s planned wedding, he and Malachi must uncover the motive for the murder, find the assassin and keep Malachi from being killed himself.
Hexworld is brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what the third book in the series will bring.