Thursday 10 December 2015

#CBR7 Book 133: "Hex Hall" by Rachel Hawkins

Page count: 337 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Sophie Mercer is a witch and because of the various bad incidents her magic has gotten her mixed up in, she and her mum have moved a lot during her lifetime. After Sophie seriously misjudges the oomph of a love spell at her current high school's prom, and there is a huge scene, Sophie's normally absentee father, a European warlock of some kind, gets involved. Sophie is sent off to a boarding school. On a remote island, where she will stay until she graduates at 18.

Hex Hall, as it's known among the kids there, is a magical reform school where wayward witches, shapeshifters and faeries are sent until they come of age. As an attempt at greater inclusion, there is currently also a vampire attending the school. Jenna the vampire also just happens to be Sophie's new roommate. After Jenna's former roommate ended up dead under mysterious  and suspicious circumstances (with two little holes in her neck) the year before, Jenna is pretty much feared and/or shunned by the whole school. Sophie doesn't want to jump to conclusions, however.

Before her first week is up, Sophie and Jenna are starting to bond; a trio of powerful Mean Girl witches want Sophie to join their coven so they can maximise their power (and are NOT pleased to get no for an answer); Sophie has detention for the rest of the term and an inconvenient crush on the most popular boy in school. She also learns that her father is in fact the head of the Order that sent most of the kids to Hex Hall, and as a result, he (and his daughter) are not really popular. Sophie is rumoured to be just as powerful as him, but having grown up around normal humans, never interacting with other magically abled, things that others consider child's play are completely new to her. She finds the most basic spells incredibly challenging and on top of that, she has to try to survive magical high school intrigue.

Sophie refuses to join the crusade against Jenna, which gets more intense after another girl is attacked, with Jenna having been one of the last to interact with her. Sophie wants to solve the mystery behind the attack and get good enough at magic that she can tell the coven to stuff it. At least she gets to spend lots of quality time with Archer (her crush) during their detention sessions. Now if she could only make him forget about Elodie, his current girlfriend and her nemesis.

Hex Hall is fairly highly rated on Goodreads and when I saw it cheaply in an e-book sale, it seemed a fun enough read. As an added bonus, the X in the title would allow me to finish my Alphabet Soup challenge for the year. It's a fairly generic YA paranormal fantasy, where the usual high school intrigues are made a bit more interesting as there is magic, witches, ghosts, various shapeshifters, faeries and possibly an evil demon on the loose.

Sophia is a likable, snarky, independently-minded heroine. She doesn't really fit in with any of the popular kids and has a tendency to speak before she thinks. This sometimes backfires badly. Despite her disgust at being a cliche, she can't help but fall for the ridiculously handsome Archer Cross, and the more time she spends around him, discovering that he's actually smart, funny and kind, as well as well-liked around the whole school doesn't help. His only flaw is dating Elodie, the head of the coven, whose main goals seem to be to recruit Sophie to enhance the coven's power and to get Jenna expelled from the school.

There are some fun ideas here - Lord Byron being a vampire sentenced to teach at the school. Detention is being forced to catalogue magical artifacts, that move to a new area every day, in a huge creepy basement. Supernatural teens who can't keep under the radar being sent to magical reform school at a remote location.

I also like that Elodie, Sophia's initial nemesis and the Regina George of the coven, turned out to be a bit more multi-faceted than she seemed at first. I liked Sophia's fish out of water experience. The friendship between Jenna and Sophie was also a nice feature, and the revelation that Jenna was gay made sense without just seeming like a "insert token LGBT character here for diversity" thing.

I didn't really care about the many shadowy groups who are out there trying to destroy the supernatural, although it's clear from the synopsis of the next book (and to anyone who's ever read a narrative) that they'll play a more significant part in the sequels. Sophia turning out to be the only child of the head warlock, with a legacy of super special power was a bit too convenient.

Not sure I got invested enough in this world and the characters to bother reading the sequels any time soon. I won't rule it out if I find them at a decent price in a book sale, but I doubt I'll be seeking them out in the immediate future. The book didn't stand out enough for that.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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