The Warlock’s Curse by M.K. Hobson is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and possibly one of the hardest to review. If I write about what happens in the book, it becomes spoilery; if I write about the emotional sleigh ride* the book takes the reader on, that becomes spoilery too. This is partly because I didn’t know what to expect at all; if I give any clues as to the trajectory of the emotional course, anyone reading this review will be anticipating the changes, and that ruins the fun.
I can safely say the book starts dark. That’s inherent in the title. Hobson also does something very interesting in that we are primed to see the initial point of view character as the villain, and then turns our expectations on their head.
It then becomes an adventure story, a coming of age story, a story of young, burgeoning romance, with a Heinleinesque hero and heroine. I was rooting for Will and Jenny. They were smart, likeable, energetic, brash, and admirable. Will is a talented young engineer, Jenny an enthusiastic financier who uses her access to wealth (she’s an heiress) to make more money. The bulk of the story takes place at the turn of the last century in a secondary world Chicago. Will goes to work for Nikolai Tesla at the prestigious Tesla Industries, and the book is chock-full of a new kind of science and technology that is both Earth-based and not (well, if string theory is true, then I suppose the Otherwhere could exist).
Did I mention Heinleinesque? The book has such a sense of Golden Age exuberance, that at one point, a character actually says, “As you know, Will…” in explaining a scientific theory. Instead of rolling my eyes, I chuckled. I don’t know if Hobson did it on purpose but it worked.
However, I did have reservations. Some were about the science; but then again, I think string theory is like physics for English majors (I’m skeptical). It’s a little hand-wavy and it seems more like magic than science in that it’s awfully convenient, the way we can access unlimited energy via the Otherwhere with virtually no downside. I also was annoyed that in order for the book to work, basic information has to be withheld from Will regarding the warlock’s curse — except that it’s actually in keeping with the other characters’ true natures, as we come to find out.
Which brings me to my final reservation — there’s a whole lot of explanation about motives at the end that probably could have been more organic in the telling. It was disappointing, probably because everything up to that point was so much fun. I might have tsked.
Aside from that, I haven’t felt this emotionally connected to a book in a long time. Please do read it, and the other books in the series. I had no trouble starting with this one, and I’m looking forward to going back and reading the others.
*As in Nantucket sleigh ride