Jinx by Sage Blackwood was meant for me. The cover and synopsis drew me to it hard enough to buy it even though I don't usually buy books by authors whose work I don't already trust. This time it paid off and paid off well.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In the Urwald, you
don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter-churn riding
witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary.
Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon
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 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
A story about a young boy receiving a magical education (sort of), a cranky wizard who hides too much, a quest, a journey, and an evil wizard to defeat, this book has it all. Including werebears. The prose is pithy and full of the sort of observations I love when reading. It sucked me in from the beginning, but the characters and story are what made me not want to leave and had me savoring every word. There is also some truly great dialogue. Simon has exactly the sort of sarcastic sense of humor I enjoy the most and it is a wonderful delight when Jinx picks this up from his mentor and develops one as well.
Jinx is a wonderful hero. He is smart, brave, loyal, and not such a great student of magic. I loved how often he failed at things and how he would try harder to succeed next time. I also enjoyed how his attitude changed over the course of the novel from child full of wide eyed wonder to slightly surly pre-adolescent full of attitude and a desire to not follow directions. How absolutely perfect is that? The villain of the story is creepy enough to make the reader wary, but not enough to terrify.
Any reader who loves tales of magic and wonder will enjoy this one. I was sad at the end of the book because I didn't want to leave the Urwald or Jinx and Simon behind. I really hope the author writes more stories from this world just because I want to know more.