I'll start this review by saying that there are a lot of people out there who are prejudiced against YA books. I'm not one of them. I'm interested in good books, no matter who their target audience is. I have enjoyed many YA books in the last couple of years, despite my old age. In my opinion, a lot of YA books are so well written and complex that they shouldn't even be market as such. Many of them are much better than a lot of the so called adult books out there. However, its demographic should be taken into consideration when reviewing such a book, and that's what I'll try to do.
The story opens with our heroine, Sophie Mercer, who just happens to be a witch, at a school dance. She finds a girl crying in the bathroom, and since she pities said girl for being a punching bag for other kids, she decides to help her get the popular boy she has a crush on as her date. The love spell she performs backfires and all hell breaks lose. The whole debacle ends up with the girl blaming Sophie and calling her a witch in front of the entire school. That poses a problem, since Sophie has been trying to blend in and live a normal life among "regular" humans.
I have to say I liked the fact that the love spell she performs is intended to help someone else and not herself. I like my heroines selfless, it always endears them to me. But, as we all know: No good deed goes unpunished.
Sophie was brought up by her mother, who is a "normal". She has never met her father, who's a warlock that lives in Europe. But she does have some limit contact with him through phone calls and emails. She and her mom have moved around a lot, living in 19 states in the last 16 years. Because of that, she hasn't had many friends and is pretty close with her mother.
The school dance fiasco is not the first time Sophie has been in trouble for using her powers. However, the incident is apparently the straw that broke the camel's back, and her warlock dad decides to send her to a school for troubled Prodigium (how gifted individuals, such as witches, shapeshifters, and faeries are called).
Thus, enters Hecate Hall, or as the students have dubbed it, Hex Hall. Prodigium kids are sentenced there after committing infractions or acts that risk exposing their unique natures. Although, as Sophie learns, there are other boarding schools for gifted teens to learn how to control and expand their abilities, Hex Hall is more like juvie than a school. Students are there to learn control and the risks of being exposed, as well as punishment for their indiscretions.
So far, the story surely reminds us of other series, such as Harry Potter, Vampire Academy, House of Night, and so many others. But I guess it's almost impossible to be completely original in this genre. Almost everything has been done, so I can forgive the author for these similarities. Plus, in one of my favorites quotes from the book, the author even makes fun of this fact, when Sophie has an interaction with the Groundskeeper, Cal:
"So if you can heal with your touch, why are you working here as like, Hagrid, or whatever?"
Anyway, as soon as Sophie steps inside the school grounds she runs into werewolves and faeries, creatures she had little to no exposure before. She is not happy to be there, and in her first interaction with a werewolf she gets into a little trouble, which results in her meeting a cute warlock by the name of Archer Cross. Although, he helps her out, he insults her skills, which of course pisses her off. Now, I know what you are thinking, because that's what I was thinking too. Yes, Archer will become Sophie's love interest. We can all see that coming from a mile away. Just the name Archer Cross is such a leading man name that it already gives it away. Plus, their first interaction is pretty much the same cliché all YA books use. But, I rolled with it and so should you.
From there her first day gets from bad to worse. First, she finds out that her roommate is the only vampire kid on campus. Vampires are not considered Prodigium, but the school is trying to be considered forward thinking by teaching a vampire how to interact with them all. There is a huge prejudice against her vampire roommie, Jenna. Not only because she is a vampire, but because her previous roommate and best friend was found murdered with two punctures wounds on her neck and her blood drained a few months before. Jenna was cleared of the crime by The Council (the Prodigium ruling body), but most of the students there believe she did the killing.
As soon as Sophie is alone checking out the school for herself she is approached by a trio of popular and beautiful girls (is there any other kind?). Turns out she is the only other dark witch on campus, and they need a fourth one for their coven. Long story short, Sophie turns down their offer and incidentally, incurs in their ire.
It seems Sophie has a knack for pissing people off, although it usually isn't her fault. Since she grew up away from this magical world, she knows nothing about the rules and customs of her own kind. It causes her many problems and a lot of frustration. She feels like she doesn't know anything, especially about her father, but she soon finds out that there is a lot more about him than she had previously known.
Sophie also learns that there are many enemies of their kind. There are three groups of humans whose mission statements are to eliminate all Prodigium: The Alliance (agents from different government agencies); The Brannicks (an ancient family from Ireland); and the most dangerous, the L' Occhio di Dio (The Eye of God, a group of Holy Knights). As expected, Sophie is shocked and horrified to find out that all their lives could be in danger, since she had no idea these organizations existed. However, those are the least of her problems at the moment.
Because of her father and a prank pulled by the resident mean girls, she gets in trouble with a teacher and ends up with detention for the rest of the semester. It just so happens that the stunt the girls pulled on her backfires, since Archer has to serve detention with her. Good for her, bad for The Queen Bee, since Archer is her boyfriend.
During their time in detention, Sophie and Archer grow closer. I know, such a shock, right? *rolls eyes* But such a thing is too be expected in a teen novel.
Sophie is also getting along pretty well with her vamp roommie, but things start going south when another attack occurs. This time the victim is one of the Unholy Trio, whom are all hateful towards her roommate. Although the girl survives, she can't remember anything. Jenna is once more the number one suspect. When a third attack happens, yet again to one of the members of the coven, our friendly neighborhood vamp is sent away to be dealt with by The Council. Sophie is heart-broken and doing her best to clear her friend's name. In the meantime, Sophie is apparently being hunted by one of the school ghosts, which is freaking her out. But not all is as it first appears, and that is when the plot thickens.
I'll stop right now, so I don't spoil you rotten. Let's just say that the book picks up from here on out.
I was pleasantly surprise with the turn of events. The plot is somewhat original and I didn't see a lot of what was coming. The twists and turns are fun, and are the strong point of the book. I'm usually pretty good at predicting what will happen in a story, but that was not the case with this one, which was a welcomed change.
Another good point in its favor is the mythology. I thought it was a very original take on old myths. In the world Rachel Hawkins created shapeshifters, witches, and faeries are descendants of the three Angels that were cast out of Paradise because they didn't take sides in the battle between God and Lucifer. This is how the origins of The Prodigium are explained:
"One group chose to hide itself away under the hills and deep in forests. They became faeries. Another group chose to live among animals and became shapeshifters. And the last one chose to intermingle with humans and became witches."
Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with the character development. I wanted to learn more about what made Sophie tick, and more about the boy, Archer Cross. Rachel Hawkins created some interesting characters, but they all seemed a bit superficial to me. As did Sophie's relationship with Archer. It was all a little shallow, in my opinion. I didn't fall for him, as Sophie did. I wasn't as invested as I should have been. But then again, this book is intended for teenagers, and I guess what makes a 16 year old girl fall for a boy is a lot less than what an adult woman would need. Even so, there could have been a more in depth development of the characters and the relationships.
Hex Hall is the first book of a series, so I guess the author will have more time to mature the characters and their interactions. Although, as this was the first one, she should already have laid out the ground work for what is to come. She did leave a lot of plot points to be further explored in future books, but I still feel there should have been a more established perception of the players. But I was glad most of the plot was resolved and that there wasn't a big cliffhanger in the end. That usually pisses me off.
All in all, it was a fun book. Very light, bordering on shallow, and a fast read. It only took me a couple of hours, and I read it all in one sitting, which already says a lot. I'm betting young adults will really enjoy it for what it is and will be buying the next one. I'll probably buy it myself. There are still some mysteries to be resolved, and I find myself curious about their resolution. It was a nice beginning and a good setting up for a series, but I hope the next book is more powerful for me to have an interest in continuing to a third one.
I give it 3 out of 5 stars.