May 01, 2010

You had me at "BAD DOG!"... (Review: Hex Hall by R. Hawkins)

Hex Hall
Rachel Hawkins
Simon and Schuster 2010

“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”.

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I wasn't sure about getting this book. I didn't like the cover image and I didn't like the title but there was such a tremendous buzz round it that I thought I should give it the benefit of the doubt. And the buzz wasn't wrong! This book is just so much fun!

Hex Hall is basically a Hogwarts for “bad” kids, minus the wizards but plus a range of witches, warlocks, faeries and weres. The setting is well-described and pretty atmospheric – I found it easy to get a mental picture of the place and of the characters.

Sophie is such a great narrator. She is extremely funny, with quite a dry, snarky sense of humour which made me laugh out loud several times while reading. She also stands up for herself, but not to the point of it being unrealistic. She is, after all, the new girl at a pretty intimidating school and, as such, makes an effort to fit in and be civil to everyone without being walked all over. I particularly like that when, on her first day, she is given the opportunity to hang out with the coolest girls in school she goes with her gut instinct and kindly but firmly turns them down assuring their scorn from that point on. This is a girl who has principals and who is going to stick with them come hell or high water (both of which are genuine possibilities in the realm of paranormal fiction, of course). The aformentioned “cool girls” are also pretty interesting. Led by the beautiful Elodie, they are basically the equivalent of the bitchy cheerleaders seen in contemporary YA fiction, yet are written with genuine light and shade, granting them an extra dimension not always seen in this type of character.

The obligatory male hottie is the gloriously named Archer Cross (a name totally ridiculous in it's manliness). Sophie and Archer clash almost on page one, igniting a full-on teen girl crush on her part and a mild interest on his. I loved the way that she inner-monologues about him – it just seemed so silly and overwhelming and all-consuming and real. I remember the fun, and torment, of unrequited teenage crushes and Sophie's reactions and inner monologue rang certainly rang true for me.

All this aside, the story has it's darker side as well. The carefully explained “monster hunters” who are pledged to hunt out and destroy Prodigium (the name for all those young 'uns with special “gifts”) are really quite frightening. This book (the first in a series) focuses on L'Occhio Di Dio – an imaginary offshoot of the Knights Templar, especially tasked with rooting out the supernatural. I loved how they were tied into an existing historical group, it was extremely well thought out.  Rachel Hawkins also doesn't shy away from gruesome images of the way in which these hunters deal with their prey. One of the initial scenes at the school is an orientation explaining the dangers of being Prodigium, and it is really pretty grim.

The denouement of the story is very gripping – I really had no idea how everything was going to turn out at the end and it sets itself up for a sequel very nicely. I sometimes think that you can see where a series is going to go from book one, but in this case I have no idea.  I shall be waiting with baited breath.

Also, the line “I can see no reason why anyone should ever go into a cellar unless there is wine involved” may well become my personal life motto.


Cat @ Beyond Books said...

There were a lot of great lines in this book. It made me laugh out loud many, many times and I just felt so happy when I was done!

I can't wait for the sequel!