"To lose one parent may be regarded as unfortunate; to lose both looks like carelessness."  The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde.

The Urwald is not an easy place to stay alive.  Both of Jinx's parents died of Urwald-related calamities.  Werebears are awfully hungry creatures, you know.  And in between their dying, each surviving parent remarried the next person in line, as it goes in the townships of the Urwald.  So it was that Jinx was left as the owner of his own hut and with two thoroughly nasty stepparents.  And then the hut burned down.

The new hut belonged to the stepparents, and since Jinx was one more mouth demanding semi-regular meals of toad porridge and root stew and other Urwaldish fare, they decided to take him out into the Urwald, leave the path, and let him die.  Killer forests and the beasts within are quite handy for murderous, stingy adults who inhabit these stories (I'm sure this is some sort of fairy-tale metaphor for something weirdly Freudian, but I don't want to get into that sort of thing right now).  The one thing to remember when venturing into the Urwald is to never stray from the path.  There is a truce between humans who use the path and the wild denizens of the forest: you stay on your path, and we'll keep to ourselves.

In order to ensure his stepson's quick demise, Bergthold drags Jinx off the path, where, surprisingly, they encounter a man.  Simon is a wizard, though he does not look it, lacking the usual long flowing beard and tall pointy hat. He offers a silver penny for Jinx, and when Bergthold tries to get three silver pennies, Simon leaves him to the trolls.  He and Jinx return home to a positive fleet of feline life, and Jinx begins his life as Simon's servant.

Although he's not particularly nice, Simon doesn't seem exactly evil, either.  It helps that Jinx can discern a person's feelings--they appear like a color around the person's head.  He can also speak to the trees in the Urwald, and they fear only one thing: the Terror.  Although Simon can become irritated, he never has bloody knives pop up around his head like the evil Bonemaster, another wizard in the Urwald.  Simon teaches Jinx a bit of magic, but then performs a strange spell on him, depriving him of his sixth sense for feelings and leaving him feeling very hollow indeed. When Simon's wife Sophie finds out about this, she is furious.

So Jinx runs away, and almost immediately is set upon by a rather friendly robber named Rowan.  Strangely, the trees point to Rowan as the source of the Terror, but Rowan is under a curse that prevents him from talking about his own curse (which is a handy bit of magic).  The boys also meet a young, spunky lady named Elfwyn, who happens to be the granddaughter of a local witch, Dame Glammer.  They all visit the witch to figure out how to break their curses, but she's really rather useless at giving advice.  Instead, she prefers to fly about the forest in her butter churn and threaten to eat cursed children.

Finally, Jinx, Rowan, and Elfwyn journey to the place they've been told never to seek: the Bonemaster's lair.  Don't go getting any ideas that the Bonemaster has just created stories about himself to keep people away: this wizard is a vicious, amoral murderer.  Will the three children be able to escape and break their curses?

Jinx is a charming fantasy with enough familiar elements of magical tales that a young reader will be comfortable navigating the landscape, but the characters are original and very, very funny.  I cannot wait to see where Jinx's adventures take him next!


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