Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: Hex Hall

TitleHex Hall 
Series: Hex Hall Book 1
Author(s): Rachel Hawkins
Genre:  Young Adult, Paranormal
Publisher/Year: Simon and Schuster/2010
-Webpage/blog: Reading Writing Rachel
-Challenges Fulfilled: 2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge

SynopsisThree 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.

Review: Often while reading this I had to consciously slow myself down because I found myself tearing through it much too rapidly.  Hex Hall is an easy, enjoyable read for me.  Overall nothing really shocked me, a few surprises (such as Sophie's roommate Jenna, her father's role and certain character motivations), but nothing that made me go 'How did I miss that?'.  For anyone who is currently obsessingreading young adult books with a boarding school and para-normalcy tied together a lot of the plot points will seem familiar.  Shades of Claudia Grey's Evernight, Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy and even Rachel Cain's Morganville books come to mind immediately.  This isn't to say that Hawkins shirked on the world-building; its more that the entire subgenre of paranormal YA's has exhausted the boarding school aspect.

Sophie was, despite her sullen attitude at first, an intriguing character to read about.  She performs minor mischievous magicks that finally get her sent to Hecate Hall (better known as Hex Hall) until she turns eighteen (in two years) and hopefully learns some control over her reckless magic use.  This, like much of the up-front plotlines of the book, isn't the complete truth however.  Interestingly, Sophie's mother is completely human while her father is the warlock; however Sophie is raised as a human in human surroundings.  She moves constantly, but she's happy enough with the life and is upset to find out she's being shipped to Hecate Hall.

A lot of the book is steeped in generations old mysteries, secrets and dark things.  As I mentioned, everything that is directly said can be more or less not taken at its word.   A lot of the reasoning seems to be to 'protect' Sophie, or her classmates.  The whole adult mentality 'if they know too much it may corrupt them' seems to be the plan.  Sophie unravels many of the mysteries herself, but some of them are shoved at her and she's forced to deal with them.

I liked Hex Hall itself.  There's a spell cast, that is explained about halfway through the novel, that gives it a kind of interesting turn.  The school's furniture represents the student's view of how they feel currently.  It kind of raises issues of whether its actually physically changed, or just visually, but its a cool spell.  This is also the second book I've read that has made a certain brooding poet from the 19th century into a vampire.  Oh fun times.

Sophie was given much of the development, but the others weren't left hanging.  Mostly their backstories came in spurts and sometimes (like Archer's, or Elodie's) just seemed to be there, to explain them a bit more, but didn't blend with the rest of the story as well.  Sophie's great-grandmother's story was very revealing about how a tale can get twisted as things get re-told and her room mate Jenna's I wanted to know a bit more about.

I'm looking forward to the second novel, Demonglass due out in March of 2011.  And point in fact, I like the UK cover moreso than the US one.

Discussion Questions
Sophie is abandoned by her father for her supposed protection. Do you believe there is anything that justifies abandoning your child?
I think that Sophie's dad did the right thing, as far as his thinking, but I think that her parents treated the entire thing wrongly.  Honesty is always a good policy and may have saved them all some trouble.  I think that if the parent believes they are a true danger to the child--demonically or otherwise (maybe they can't support them, or are mentally unable to handle the stress of being a parent)--then giving them up is the best solution yes.  And its unfair to say that he 'abandoned' her, he still kept in touch, and made sure she was okay.

Did Hex Hall remind you of any other series?
It had elements of most YA paranormal boarding school set books--Evernight, Vampire Academy and even Morganville.

Normally when you think of Dark Witches and White Witches, you think good and evil. This series seemed to have a different take on that all together. It almost had an apathetic take on human life with only care taken if their secret might be revealed. Do you find this disturbing or real?
Seems more realistic given that for them we're (humans) disrupting their lives and having to make them hide who they are and hiding their society.  Plus the added bonus of being hunted down and killed in horrible fashions.  Who likes that?  Who doesn't resent that?  The fact they value human life so carelessly is just a natural thing.  WE resent bugs who intrude on us after all.

Looking forward to the next book, or pass on it? Why?
I am because I want to see how things turn out with everything that happens with Archer and the groundskeeper.  I have a feeling I know who Sophie is engaged to (from birth apparently).