Book Review: A Flash of Hex by Jes Battis
Urban Fantasy is a pretty young sub-genre in the grand scheme of things, having only really come into the form we know today in the 90’s or so. (If I get ambitious, I’ll finally sit down and finish working on a new vid about Urban Fantasy for my YouTube channel, but that’s a big if). Still, Urban Fantasy (and its sister genre, Paranormal Romance) has been around long enough to establish its own set of tropes, cliches, and expectations.
Jes Battis’ A Flash of Hex isn’t an out and out subversion of the common Urban Fantasy tropes, but it still goes well beyond the standard fare I’ve come to expect. This particularly took me by surprise, as to judge by the cover and the back blurb, A Flash of Hex is Just Another Urban Fantasy book. Which is honestly something I was perfectly okay with, especially considering I paid like a dollar (if that) for it at a thrift store.
A Flash of Hex is the second book in Jes Battis’ ‘OSI’ series, which it should be noted has nothing to do with the organization from the Venture Bros. I haven’t read Night Child, the book that came before this, but I was able to pick up most of it fairly quickly. The book is written from the perspective of Tess Corday, who is basically a magic-cop, working in an organization full of magic cops. Basically CSI for wizards. Somebody’s been gruesomely, ritualistically murdering teenagers with magical potential. On top of that, all the victims have been found with traces of “hextacy,” a magical drug, in their systems. And so Tess goes around and casts spells and occasionally gets attacked by vampires oh and by the way there is also a sexy necromancer dude with a mysterious past that she’s very, very attracted to even though sexing up necromancers is forbidden by OSI rules. (Spoiler alert: they bang anyway).
Like I said, standard stuff.
However, the thing that caught me early on, and the thing that Battis does to distinguish herself from a ton of other Urban Fantasy authors, is that her work is super, super gritty. To be honest, the average Dresden Files novel is basically a superhero story with magic based superpowers and some noir trappings. In contrast, Battis comes at Urban Fantasy from a different angle, highlighting the blood and filth and misery and grief that comes from everyone involved in a murder. And that’s before you get to stuff like drugs– hextacy may be a made-up drug, but it’s not the only one that shows up in the book, and Battis shows just how devastating these things can be. Sidenote: apparently Vancouver (where this book takes place) is a lot meaner of a town than I’d had been lead to believe. Then again, it might just be Canada-mean, which means they put maple syrup on their poutine or whatever.
(Sidenote: I’ve never been to Canada).
The other thing that Battis goes out of her way to address is the matter of representation. It’s kind of funny, as there are more LGBT characters in A Flash of Hex than there are in the entire Dresden Files series, and they’re all given far more sympathetic characterization, to boot. Heck, one character is deaf, gay, and a psychic, so that’s like a three-fer on minority groups.
Battis’ characters are solid, and the exploration of real life issues like drugs, teen runaways, and prostitution (and how they interact) is something Urban Fantasy probably should have been doing a long time ago. This said, A Flash of Hex isn’t a perfect novel. In particular, it kind of suffers by having the serial killer villain be too connected to the bad guy of the previous book (which I haven’t read). It’s a little out of left field, and so it takes away from the mystery aspect of the book. Battis also gets a little cutesy here and there, even having Tess describe her gathered friends as “like an Urban Fantsy novel standing on my front lawn.” (Page 279). I’m all for genre awareness, but that kinda stuff is just cheating. Oh, and as a final silly nitpick, magic energy in Battis’ novels is referred to as “materia,” which just made me think of FF7.
All and all, A Flash of Hex surprised me with the direction it went in. I’d readily suggest this series to someone who’s looking for something a little different in their Urban Fantasy– although you might enjoy it more if you went and read the first one beforehand.