a flash of hex by jes battis

Posted on July 26, 2009

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Magical forensics and CSI procedural vs a serial killer targeting kids of mage families

flash of hexI am divided. For the most part, this read was a winner. It began strong, then it was all over the place. I was so dismayed, because I was so excited about reading it, especially as the details of the grisly crime perpetrated by an impossibly powerful being unfolded. My first impression was that this paranormal mystery would be cutting-edge, but this impression failed to hold up somewhere near the middle of the book.

From a detail-oriented police procedural, it degenerated into a cartoon, with Justice League aspirations without the costumes. The book was unbalanced; so are my thoughts about it. I guess, I will just have to try to sift through my impression to come up with a coherent book blog.

the part I thought was 5 Stars
The story follows the progress of Tess Corday, a hard-core coffee guzzling occult special investigator (OSI). She’s forced to seek the help of Lucian Agrado, a guy who swings towards all things dark and deadly, a necromancer, after a series of ritualistic murders of runaway kids had occult investigators befuddled.

In Tess’s line of work, occult crimes happen all the time, perpetrated by mages, demons, and vampires. But, sometimes, something so evil—and terrifying—slips through the cracks of reality to mess with an OSI’s mind, and soul. Though OSI people can manipulate magical energy, or materia, they still have to rely on human wits and science to catch criminals. They don’t work in the sidelines; instead the influential members of their magically-gifted group manipulate society and politics to keep knowledge of magic’s reality under wraps from ordinary humans, or normates.

On the surface, Tess’s world is our world. Pop culture references, such as Facebook and Dexter the TV series, help create that illusion. The author’s habit of describing places (the story is set in Vancouver) keeps up appearances.

Though the political tensions between mage families, the people that control the OSI’s purse strings, is hinted at, the focus is the investigation, which is conducted using forensic science, detective work, and intuition.

I was pleased by this focus. The problem sometimes with urban fantasy is that the horror of a single human death by murder is overwhelmed or totally ignored by the greater picture of monsters walking the streets, devouring the weak. In this book, the event of a human being murdered is treated with all the attention, and respect, it deserves. The scene with the mother grieving for her murdered son was gut-wrenching.

But….
I mentioned intuition—this was Tess’s territory. For a book that initially presented itself as leaning towards evidence-based investigation, the leap from science to pursuing leads based on what Tess felt is startling.

So is the shift from sane to crazy shocking: from a sharp piece-of-work, Tess’s OSI supervisor somehow thought sending a team composed of an odd assortment of allies—ostracized necromancer, teenage almost-vampire, untried civilian, profiler with little combat-training—to accompany Tess and partner Derrick to storm the stronghold of the entity that has been murdering the children of mages in lieu of combat-trained mages is a great idea.

The OSI supervisor even brought along Tess’s teenage ward to the operation to ‘man’ the video monitors. I was scratching my head, baffled at this turn of events. To make the downhill slide more abrupt, the entity, when the team finally found it, chatted with them, making sure to explain every baffling little detail, and stupidly exposed its fatal weakness—which, of course, our heroes promptly take advantage of.

I’m also not crazy about the author’s obvious attempts to advance a socio-political ideal through her work. I actually don’t mind moral lessons in my reads; I just hate it when they’re less than adroitly written in that I notice it happening.

To read or not to
Well, yes. It’s not so bad. I still enjoyed reading this. If it began low, I would not have minded the weird developments. But as it is, it began high, so it could only fall down hard when the author lost her steam, or simply got lazy towards the end of the book.

A Flash of Hex is sequel to Night Child.

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