Thursday, 15 April 2010

Review - Hex Hall / Rachel Hawkins

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

Spoilers - beware.

- Cross Harry Potter , Evernight and an episode of Supernatural (sans hot brothers) and you have Hex Hall. Actually, wait. Perhaps that's over simplifying it and dumbing it down for the Twilight masses? The premise isn't new in the dearth of paranormal tales scattering the YA shelves but Hawkins has managed something quite interesting. She's made her protagonist real. It sounds simple but many authors couldn't do this in their wildest dreams. Sophie is exceptionally well crafted - vulnerable yet ballsy, snarky yet insightful, independent yet craving acceptance. What can I say? I liked the witch!

The strength in Sophie is that she didn't need any of the mystical problems to carry the story, she did that solo. As do the majority of the supporting players. Sophie, her roommate, her boy crush and even her absentee father could all have worked in a contemporary, urban romance.

Hex Hall most probably sold itself with the strong writing and en vogue premise - let's face it, paranormal is the bee's knees at the moment. I am hoping that they saw what I did. The fantastic protagonist who is a delight from her ordinary looks to her snappy inner dialogue and her penchant for dirty jokes that utterly enchanted me. Sophie literally had me at 'bad dog'. I found myself bereft when she inevitably came into her powers. Sure this was a metaphor for self-belief (as many aspects of Hex Hall are) but I liked that she was a sucky witch.

Of particular note is the non-role of her father in her life. The issues of his abandonment were nicely played, understated even. The lack of communication between them is something that most people can connect with on some level.

Hawkins is edging towards Jennifer Echols-glory with her dialogue. It's snappy, snippy and quippy, showing the audience plenty about her characters without ever needing to be heavy handed with the telling. There's a distinct sense of teen self-awareness, bitchy humour and bravado to her voice that sits right in this reader's pocket.

As for the mythology, it is not particularly new, More like a mix of things we've all read at some point but the tone and voice allow Hex Hall to have its own sensibility. It breathes.

Hawkins' got a snappy debut on her hands with two sequels to follow. I just hope that I get to read a contemporary YA piece at some point in her writing future as I could easily see her in the Dessen, Scott and Walker mix!

Published: March 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Source: gift
Origin: USA


cat said...

Sophie had me at "bad dog", too. This was such a simple book and yet I enjoyed every page of it with immense glee. It's good proof that you don't need to over-complicate the plot, characters and dialogue to craft a fun story.

Carla said...

I agree with you on all counts, the mythology and the setting of the story have been covered in a few novels already on the shelves, and if it wasn't for the protagonist of the story, I do beleive this would have crashed and burned, much like the first scene *wink wink*.

I loved Sophie as a character, and it was mainly the narrative and her inner voice that kept me hooked as a reader. Fabulous review Adele!

Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

I won't lie, when this first came out (along with the reviews and sumaries) I was thinking, "just another paranormal... *sigh*" but after I kept reading such fantastic reviews that mirror your own thoughts, I know I have to read it one day!
Your review is so well written, I've got pretty high expectations for the book now! I could use a snippy protagonist... sulky ones are gettin gold. :D

Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to read this one. I will admit, I was kinda starting a boycott thingy, (long story) BUT having read this review I went straight to the Book Dep and ordered it :)

Thanks lovely!

Mari - Escape In A Book said...

I think she lost me at sans to smexy brothers ;)

Hex Hall sounds like a fun read and one I would love to add to my TBR pile(preferably on top of it). Great review, Adele!

Annie McElfresh said...

I heart Sophie!! When she popped an internal snarky joke about Britney Spears, I was instantly rooting for her to succeed in whatever the story was going to be about!

DreamerGirl said...

Loved it and then towards the end it had a huge jaw drop i want to know what happens next...

Diva Schuyler said...

After all the angst of dystopian YA fiction I've been reading, HEX HALL is refreshingly witty with verve and sass. I absolutely loved it, and can't wait to read the next book. The ending of HEX has a nice, solid cliffhanger, making it one of the more compelling reads I've encountered in a while.