Friday, October 28, 2016

Guest Review: Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey #witchseasoncm

Book Cover Photo Credit: TOR

Book Review: Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: TOR
Publication Year: 1991

By Steven Arellano Rose, Jr.

Mercedes Lackey is mostly known for her high fantasy novels such as the Collegium Chronicles. Her settings are often Medieval-type, magical worlds. However, in her novel, Jinx High, Lackey deviates from her usual high fantasy elements and instead focuses on those of horror and dark fantasy in a modern day urban setting. It’s a deviation she does well.

Jinx High is a story about a witch who hunts down an evil force that is threatening the lives of a several teens. The witch is north-east coast romance writer Diana (“Di”) Tregarde. Di travels to Tulsa OK, the hometown of old college friend and fellow magician Larry Kestrel to teach a series of creative writing lessons in his teenage son Derek’s (“Deke’s”) high school English class. However, when she senses an evil magic that is trying to destroy Deke and several of his schoolmates, her mission goes beyond that of a teaching assignment. The evil force that Di must seek out and defeat? (Warning: potential spoiler ahead.) Deke’s fellow student and girlfriend, Fay Harper.

Published in 1991, Jinx High is probably one of the earliest horror stories to utilize the “monster” as hero--“monster” in that the character is of a type that has traditionally been portrayed as evil, such as a witch, vampire or zombie. So this twist comes at a time that predates the trend that it has become today in horror fiction.

The horror element climaxes in the prom night scene making the novel a tinge reminiscent of Stephen King’s Carrie but is far different from it. Still, the mood of the dark side of adolescence permeates and the black magic definitely enhances it. Yet the novel can hardly be classified as YA. Not only are they’re strong adult concepts and language, but the story is structured around the adult characters more than the teen ones. But even so, the 16-to-18 crowd can probably relate to it since that’s the age range of most of the adolescent characters.

Besides black magic, there are also plenty of monsters that it conjures in this story, such as demons that attack kids and spirits that possess a garage band’s guitars putting a curse on the kids at the prom.

The other element that makes this novel horror is that we are in several of the victims’ heads when they are attacked by the monstrous forces. Yet the story is also a quest to protect a population of students from being taken over by an evil sorceress. Because of this, we shouldn’t be too surprised if Fay is named after Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend who has been portrayed as an evil enchantress. So the novel overlaps with the dark fantasy genre as well. However, interestingly enough, there is a bit of a science fiction element. Computer terms of the time (some that have survived through today) are applied to the magic such as the “construct”, the artificial human that Fay makes and that poses as her “Aunt Emily” but is really her slave.

The characters in Jinx High are well-developed and sympathetic, including Di. This is played out good in her relationship with Deke’s female friend and fellow classmate, Monica Carlin whom Di defends from a horde of demons. Also, Monica looks up to Di as both a model writer and mentoring friend. So the reader gets the sense of security through the interaction between Di and Monica. The story also does a good job balancing out the scenes of the teenagers with those of the adults. We both get the teen culture of the novel’s time period, such as in a scene with a group of kids playing a Nintendo, as well as that of the adults which particularly reflects a nostalgia for the ‘60s hippie culture so popular in the latter half of the ‘80s and through early ‘90s. After all, the kids’ parents are baby boomers.

The few flaws that I had with Jinx High were actually in Di’s character as much as she was among my favorites. For one thing, the story stays in her head too much when she thinks up solutions to challenges. For another thing, her verbal tick, “Jesus Cluny Frog”, though well utilized to distinguish her character, is overused to the point of annoyance on the reader’s part. But these flaws are out-weighed by the strengths mentioned above.

Even though Mercedes Lackey is mostly a storyteller of high fantasy set in medieval-type worlds, her Jinx High is really well-told as a modern day horror story. I recommend it to my fellow readers of dark supernatural fiction. It shows you that an author does not have to regularly write in a particularly genre to write it well.

Amazon/Kindle Link:

Visit Steven at his blog, A Far out Fantastic Site.

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