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In a Cool Breeze

The Hexologists  (The Hexologists, volume 1)

By Josiah Bancroft 

12 Mar, 2024

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2023’s The Hexologists is the first volume in Josiah Bancroft’s Hexologists secondary-world fantasy-mystery series.

Isolde Iz” Wilby and Warren War” Wilby are professional problem-solvers, using hexology and a bewilderingly wide assortment of magical artifacts to deal with the vexing challenges so common in their modern magical industrial revolution world.

The Wilbies are very much not monarchists. Bad news for the royal representative determined to hire the pair.

Royal Secretary Horace Alman is concerned for King Elbert, who of late has become obsessed with being cooked alive. While the royal staff do their best to discourage the king from crawling into ovens, the situation is distressing. Asserting that the king’s malady was triggered by a letter, Alman would like Iz and War to investigate the letter and its sender.

While Iz and War loathe monarchy and the monarch, Alman argues that the cost of a power struggle for the throne (or government, should the republicans prevail) would fall most heavily on the poor. Therefore, to avoid general strife, the couple reluctantly agree to undertake the case.

The letter asserts that the anonymous sender is the king’s unacknowledged son. If true, this might upend the succession. While the claim could be a confidence game, the fact that the letter was sealed with one of the king’s seals suggests that the sender has (or had, given that it is a long-disused seal) a close connection to the king.

Also suggestive: no sooner do the couple discuss the matter with Alman than they are attacked by a mandrake somehow smuggled into the Wilby home. The mandrake attack is followed by anonymous suggestions that the couple drop the case. Clearly, something is up and whatever it is, someone does not want the light of day cast on it.

Possessed of considerable magical resources and investigatory skills, the couple take a close look at the king’s youthful days, when the supposed heir would have had to be conceived. Iz and War discover the usual missteps of a spoiled royal heir… but also a doomed romance and violent death hastily concealed.

There may be an unnamed heir. There is something far worse. Since the Wilbies know about it, they likely know too much for their own continued health.


Something my ongoing tracking of government forms overlooks is that featuring a specific government structure is not necessarily advocacy. In this specific case, the king is at least a little mad and even if he were not, the only argument in the monarch’s favour seems to be that many of the alternatives are somehow even worse. [Editor’s note: I thought that the best of a bad lot was democracy.]

There was a 2014 TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence that unnecessarily answered the question What if for good reason Tommy and Tuppence didn’t much like each other?” The Wilbies are not that sort of crime-solving couple. This book is not filled with ill-tempered snipes and under-the-breath mutterings. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges to the investigation is that the Wilbies are well-suited, enjoy each other’s company, and would far rather engage in (mostly off-stage) carnal grappling than investigate the king’s problems. This is not just because the king is a prat whose head would look lovely in a guillotine basket.

Also notable: the narrative stage is not populated with a small handful of characters, nicely divided into two factions. People (not the Wilbies, but other people) work at cross-purposes and while some of the schemes are not at all well thought out, other plots very much are. For their part, neither Iz nor War have a plan (beyond snoop”), but they are adept at rapid improvisation.

A challenge faced by the initial volumes of ongoing series is establishing a new setting and characters AND finding room for a plot AND leaving room for further adventures… while at the same not holding back so much of the ongoing plot that the result is an incomplete book1. The Hexologists manages to thread all these needles.

Despite the many shady schemes and violent deaths chronicled in this book, The Hexologists is a surprisingly cheerful, upbeat novel. Spending time with Iz and War is fun; I look forward to the next volume of their adventures.

The Hexologists can be found here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: We aren’t still living in the 1990s or 2000s. One hopes the era of here, have a chunk of a book that may never be finished” is dead.