Title: Hex Hall
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Genre: YA / Fantasy/ Contemporary
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.
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (US) / Simon and Schuster Children (UK)
Publication date: March 2 2010 / April 1 2010
Hardcover: 336 pages (US) /
Stand alone or series: First book in a planned series
Why did I read this book: I had been waiting for this ever since I first heard about it towards the end of 2009. Then, positive reviews started to emerge in the US making me even more psyched about it.
How did I get this book: Review copy from S&S UK.
There is such a thing as “Expectations”. When one sees the two covers of Hex Hall and then reads the blurb, there is a certain alignment inside based on the promise made by the combination of the two. That promise to me, was that Hex Hall was going to be a funny, light, mindless read. I fully expected to be entertained based on these parameters and for the first chapters my expectations were fully met. But after a while, those parameters changed as Hex Hall proved to be something altogether different, a darker story than I expected and much, much better than what the cover and blurb promised it would be – needless to say I firmly believe that these do the book a disservice.
Sophie Mercer has been moving around since she can remember and she and her mother have lived in 19 different states so far. Sophie is a Witch, daughter of a human mother with an absent Warlock father whom she never met but with whom some emails have been exchanged. After trying to help a colleague with a love spell that goes wrong, Sophie is sent to Hecate Hall (AKA Hex Hall or Freak High) , a reformatory school for witches, fairies and weres. Hecate Hall is where kids who misbehave or use spells in front of humans, are sent and where they must stay until graduation.
Once there, Sophie will find out about this world she knows little about, whilst trying to get along with new friends and escape from foes (like the trio of witches who are bullies) and falling in love with the most handsome boy ever, Archer Cross. But then people start to get attacked by mysterious forces and her roommate, the only vampire in the school, is suspect numero uno.
As far as set ups go, at first, there is nothing really original about the book. It feels like it all has been done before and comparisons with J.K. Rowling’ s Harry Potter or Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy are certainly inevitable. I mean, Sophie is the kid who doesn’t know that she comes from a powerful family and who must find out about her own history; her enemies are the usual Mean Girls bullies; her crush on Archer is telegraphed from the start; and Hecate Hall is just like Hogwarts. Right?
This is a much better book than its premise. For starters, Sophie is an amazing narrator: she is extremely funny, sarcastic and smart.
“Now, Sophia, would you care to tell me why you’re here by the pond instead of reporting for your next class?”
“I’m experiencing some teenage angst, Mrs. Casnoff,” I answered. “I need to, like, write in my journal or something”
She has all the right (to me), believable reactions to everything that happens to her. She gets royally pissed when she finds out that her mother is keeping things from her; she becomes friends with the vampire (who is gay and become a vampire when she fell in love with one – her story is sad and tragic and I simply loved Jenna) and she is very loyal but she is not as stupid as to just trust without questioning; similarly, when it comes to facing the Trio of Bitches (I mean, Witches) , there is room for understanding and even perhaps becoming friends with one of them; she is compassionate without being a Mary Sue and she definitely stands up to herself when the time comes.
Another thing that I absolutely LOVED about the book. The fact that the author is definitely aware that comparisons with other similar works would be drawn and she proceeds to pre-empt any possible negative connotations by making Sophie being a pool of awesome sarcasm and self-awareness. It happens with her observations about how the Hall is a shabby, horrible, ugly school, which means that the building is as far from being a Hogwarts as possible: that is only reinforced by how the teachers and students greet her; when she meets the groundskeeper, she voices what the reader is thinking: “why are you working here as like, Hagrid, or whatever?”. She also makes fun of her own feelings for Archer and how terribly unoriginal it is to have a crush for the hot guy that everybody loves but hey, totally understandable if you get my meaning.
But the book is much more than all of it. At the end of the first dinner at school, there is not a warm welcome: their greeting comes in the form of a dark, sad, horrifying video-like experience about all the types of people that hunt and kill their kind. That points to a world where they are not safe but also to the very basics of the author’s world building. The three types of beings: Weres, Witches and Fairies are called the Prodigium and are descended from the angels who stood by and watched the war between Lucifer and Heaven. The creatures do not get along well with each other or with other beings such as vampires and demons. The struggle for power and all its forms is alive and well in the world outside as it is inside the school – this reflects on how each factions reacts to each other or to the mystery at large which is the foundation to the story, the possible foundation of the Archer- Sophie relationship and which shapes what will become of Sophie . There is one question that Sophie asks Archer right at the beginning that in hindsight , seems to me to be the heart and soul of this trilogy and which possibly points out to the redemption of this one character that I loved. Cryptic much? Yes, of course, because the book cannot, should not be spoiled.
For the last 60 pages are incredible and made of a much darker matter than I could have expected and the surprising twists and turns – some of them heartbreaking – left me glued to the pages until the cliff-hanger came. That means: I will be back for seconds (and thirds). I think I know where it is all going but I can’t wait to be proved right (or wrong).
Notable Quotes/ Parts: from page 285 onwards the book is unputdownable. It starts with an awesome kiss in a cellar; and Sophie KICKS-ASS even if it breaks her heart and then there is twist after twist until the last sentence of the book which left my mouth hanging open.
Verdict: Hex Hall delivers on its promise of fun but surpasses it with unexpected darkness and twists. Sophie is a great narrator and lead and her voice lends the book its strongest aspect.
Rating: 7 – Very VERY Good (leaning towards 8 )
Reading Next: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken (which I shall be reviewing later today as well!)