Publisher’s Summary: “Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements. But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions. However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.”
It seems inaccurate to suggest that positive reviews of Lord of the White Hell had been stacking up across a variety of platforms. To the best of my knowledge, few, if any, brick and mortar stores stocked the books, which perhaps polarized their readership to those already familiar with Hale’s work, word of mouth exposure, or those purposefully seeking a specific type of fantasy. One thing is for sure: those readers who found Hale’s coming of age fantasy set were fierce in their expression of enjoyment. I can appreciate that kind of appreciation. Tack on the fact that these books were drawing favorable comparisons to Lynn Flewelling’s excellent Nightrunner series, and I was willingly sold on seeking Lord of the White Hell out. I should note, however, that my expectations were both high and wary. As it turned out, rightly so on both counts.
Book one was encouraging. The foundation set in those pages was strong, built on an interesting, layered world and magic system, and cemented by characters that were, for the most part, well-drawn and varied. The boarding school setting was visual and integral to the storyline; the pace seemed to be dictated by the story’s mystery thread, and was therefore quick and engaging; and the racial and religious prejudice explored throughout served to both heighten the tension and trigger several conflicts. All in all, I wasn’t more than half-way through the book when I thought, “Why didn’t I order the second book at the same time?”
Of course, all of those things would matter little to me if the characters were flat or failed to rouse any sort of emotion in me, or if their interactions provided little satisfaction. Luckily there was Kiram and there was Javier, and they delivered on the last of my caveats beautifully. Frankly, they were a joy to watch together.
The first in the duology sets-up Kiram and Javier’s romantic entanglement in a believable, lovely way. Their relationship is built on small, stolen moments; their feelings develop gradually, flirting with indifference, resistance, friendship, and desire along the way; and their chemistry is palpable, thick with equal measures of indecision and certainty. But one of the things I loved the most was that there was a balance between them: Javier, with his title and skills, learns and grows as a result of being near Karim, and Karim, the young outsider, gains new confidence in his abilities under Javier’s tutelage. They provided support without becoming a crutch, they pushed and pulled and challenged each other, and both boys become wiser, more accepting versions of themselves as the story goes on.
I will be honest and admit that their relationship more than anything made it imperative to read the second book. I do not mean to take away from the fantasy, the mystery, or anything else offered up; that was all good, too. But I wanted those boys together and happy, and that was all there was to it. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the ending of book one is abrupt, which makes having the second book on hand and ready to go a very good, sanity-saving thing indeed.
Unfortunately, book two of the duology, while still good, didn’t capture me in quite the same way. I tried to reason why, and this is what I came up with: the second half of the set was action oriented; the wheels were in swift motion to resolve and tie up loose ends in a great gulp, and the quiet moments, as sweet as they were, seemed to get swallowed up by the momentum. I would have gladly paid for a third book if it meant that the sequence of events slowed down enough to fully appreciate and accept all that was happening. That said, I applaud the ambitious nature of the second half of Lord of the White Hell, and acknowledge that I may very well be in the minority with that opinion.
When all is said and done, I’m happy to have found and read these books. Javier and Kiram are characters I won’t soon forget. I can even see myself revisiting them, particularly in the first book, on occasion. Lord of the White Hell, a few quibbles aside, was a very good entry in the high fantasy subgenre.
[A word of caution for those who’ve read the Nightrunner series and might gravitate towards Lord of the White Hell, as I did, because they have recently been placed side by side as “if you like”: they are not really comparable as the similarities are minute. In fact, the only points they share are a relationship between two men and the high fantasy backdrop.]
“Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child – her twin brother, Lan, is a powerful seventh son of a seventh son. And yet, Eff is the one who saved the day for the settlements west of the Great Barrier. Her unique ways of doing magic and seeing the world, and her fascination with the magical creatures and land in the Great Plains push Eff to work toward joining an expedition heading west. But things are changing on the frontier.
There are new professors of magic for Eff and Lan to learn to work with. There’s tension between William and his father. And there are new threats on the frontier and at home. To help, Eff must travel beyond the Barrier, and come to terms with her magical abilities–and those of her brother, to stop the newest threat encroaching on the settlers.”
Across the Great Barrier is the sequel to Wrede’s Thirteenth Child, a quiet, leisurely fantasy, and one that I enjoyed for Eff’s earnest narration. I look forward to catching up with Eff as the next chapter in her life begins. Release date: August 1, 2011.
“What if magic took over everything in its path? This is the fate of the old Hardbattle Bookshop. Magic has settled in every corner and brought chaos to Mr. Hardbattle’s life, driving away all of his customers. Then one day, just when Mr. Hardbattle’s had enough, a young boy named Arthur stumbles in. And soon Mr. Hardbattle, Arthur, and the lovable Miss Quint are banding together to reclaim the shop. A new home for magic must be found . . .”
How sweet does Magical Mischief sound? And look? That cover is so alluring; I want to step through the door, soak up all that wonderful light, and settle in with an obscure leather-bound book. Release date: July 19, 2011.
Though I tried to track one down, a summary does not appear to be in the cards quite yet for The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey. From what I gathered, it’s going to have a mystery element paired with the fantasy, and features “Oona Crate, the twelve-year-old magical detective at the center of it all.” (Source: author’s blog.) Regardless, I very much like the feel of this cover and would be predisposed to pick it up based on that alone. Release date: July 26, 2011.
“Jack Gabert went to India to serve his Queen. He returned to London a violently changed man, infected with an unnatural sickness that altered his body and warped his mind. Eileen Callaghan left an Irish convent with a revolver and a secret. She knows everything and nothing about Jack’s curse, but she cannot rest until he’s caught. His soul cannot be saved. It can only be returned to God. In the years following the American Civil War, the nun and unnatural creature stalk one another across the United States. Their dangerous game of cat and mouse leads them along great rivers, across dusty plains, and into the no man’s land of the unmarked western territories. Here are three tales of the hunt. Reader, take this volume and follow these tormented souls. Learn what you can from their struggle’s against each other, against God, and against themselves.”
Dreadful Skin unfolds in three parts, each standing solidly on its own, all implicitly connected, and follows Eileen Callaghan, former nun, secret-keeper, monster hunter. The brevity of the book, which clocks in at 228 pages and packs a whole lot into every single one, doesn’t allow for a substantial amount of character development, and yet Eileen shines. Well, she shone for me, as Briar Wilkes did before her, which makes me believe that I have an affinity for Cherie Priest’s tough-as-nails, resourceful heroines. I enjoyed Eileen’s narrative and would very much like to encounter her again, though it would seem there are no plans for more. But onto the rest.
Part one, “The Wreck of the Mary Byrd,” opens five times over, focusing on five characters and their version of “how it happened,” which, really, are more accurately statements of how it began. This structure, a sort of fits and starts story telling, laid a thick layer of tension over the proceedings, keeping the reader a little off balance, constantly waiting for the quick-as-a-wink moment when everything was undoubtedly going to go wrong. And boy did it ever.
This first segment introduces John Gabret, more commonly known as Jack, who came back from India a changed man. Literally, as ever since Jack has a propensity to turn furry, fool moon or no. Though his crimes in London, before he fled on the Mary Byrd, were attributed to Spring Heeled Jack, a demonic creature that’s become something of an urban legend, were in actuality the work of Jack’s werewolf nature. And Jack is…brutal. His conceit, his desire to live, makes for a disturbing combination. Eileen knows what he is, but her knowledge of how to stop him is limited and flawed, and watching them grapple, literally and figuratively, amps up the aforementioned tension.
In hindsight, this was my favorite of the three stories, mostly because of the tight, claustrophobic quarters of the boat, the sense of real danger that went hand in hand with it, and a few excellent secondary characters. Additionally, the stakes were raised hugely for Eileen, and her continued pursuit of Jack takes on a much more personal tone.
Parts two and Three, “Halfway to holiness” and “Our Lady of the Wasteland and the Hallelujah Chorus,” are more closely related as they happen in short order time-wise and involve several of the same characters along with Eileen.
Rather than risk spoilers by discussing the plot arc, I’ll shift to a brief discussion of atmosphere because, for me, these last two parts had it in spades. However, I’m not sure how to convey the how or the why of it; my response to this aspect of the novel is specific to past exposure (through books, film, etc.) to roaming revivalist type camps, or, if not camps of the religious ilk than simply travelers, groups of people who feel the need to keep moving, keep pushing on to new places, especially within the States and in historical context.
I could see the dirt being kicked up under heavy feet; hear the songs; feel the clapping reverberating in my chest. I wasn’t a casual observer; for a time, I was there, in the middle of it all. (A caution: Priest draws her settings well, but this reaction came more from me than the words on the page. I wouldn’t exactly be surprised to find that another reader wanted more in terms of description (or what have you) in regards to atmosphere/setting. I thought we were given just enough and let the imagination fill in any gaps.)
With one exception – a lawman that enters the picture in part three – I wasn’t enamored of the characters in the latter half of the book. I was saddened for a couple, experienced a pang of heart-sick distress for one, but I couldn’t say I liked the majority of them.
This was a difficult review to write; I liked the book a great deal, but could just as easily see how someone else might not. As a result, I’m not sure if what I’ve written here makes sense. All I can say is that I liked Eileen, was intrigued by the story, and was therefore willing and able to look past things that others may take issue with.
One final note: that Jon Foster cover is gorgeous. The image up at the top doesn’t do it justice; the one found here is better.
Now, so that one of those companions may die where she once lived, he has come again to the City of London. In 1938, where the ghosts of centuries of war haunt rain-grey streets and the Prussian Chancellor’s army of occupation rules with an iron hand.
Here he will meet his own ghosts, the remembrances of loves mortal–and immortal. And here he will face the Chancellor’s secret weapon: a human child.” [Publisher's Summary]
Note about order: While in many ways Seven for a Secret stands admirably on its own, I would suggest reading New Amsterdam prior to picking this one up.
Of New Amsterdam, I wrote: “For the pleasure I took from reading this book exceeded whatever expectations I may have entertained…I sincerely hope that Elizabeth Bear writes again of Lady Abigail Irene and Don Sebastien for I would like to visit with them again.” It was, in fact, one of my favorite novels of that year, introducing a vampire that has also become one of my favorites: Sebastien De Ulloa. I approached Seven for a Secret, a novella that picks up some time after the events of New Amsterdam, with caution: I wanted, needed, to love it just as much. And, mostly, I did.
Sebastien is a favorite of mine for a very simple reason: He breaks my heart. He is a vampire grown weary with the world, with his immortality. He’s watched empires rise and fall, he’s seen humankind make the same mistakes over and again, and he’s been witness to the death of loved ones. He is tired, his losses weighing him down, and yet…For all that, he believes his existence has a purpose. In New Amsterdam that purpose found him taking up the role of detective, solving crimes, finding a sort of justice. In this installment, Sebastien is determined to free England from Prussian rule. The means to do so comes in the form of young girls, taken from their homes and families around the age of eleven, who are being groomed to take up the mantle of the heart of the Prussian army.
But there is another reason he has returned to England from the new world: Abby Irene, one of his dearest friends and long time companions, wants to die in her homeland. I adored the development of Sebastien and Abby Irene’s friendship and devotion in New Amsterdam. It was…I can’t explain how it touched me except to say that I found it utterly beautiful and immeasurably compelling. And so to come to this, with Sebastien facing another potential loss, one that will rock him to his core…it made the story that much more poignant.
Additional appeals: The story’s alternate history, the background of this books’ particular brand of werewolf (which taps into Norse myth/history,) and the wonderful atmosphere that Bear once again imbued the story with.
To wrap up, if you: like the idea of an atypical vampire, enjoy emotionally moving characterization, and appreciate a healthy dose of history and magical theory, give New Amsterdam and Seven for a Secret a try. As for me, I’ll be waiting on the late December release of The White City, which will again feature Sebastien and his court.
“When a stranger offers her a small fortune to break into a traveling magician’s wagon, Kim doesn’t hesitate. Having grown up a waif in the dirty streets of London, Kim isn’t above a bit of breaking-and-entering. A hard life and lean times have schooled her in one lesson: steal from them before they steal from you. But when the magician catches her in the act, Kim thinks she’s done for. Until he suggests she become his apprentice; then the real trouble begins.
Kim soon finds herself entangled with murderers, thieves, and cloak-and-dagger politics, all while trying to learn how to become both a proper lady and a magician in her own right. Magic and intrigue go hand in hand in Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward, two fast-paced novels filled with mystery and romance, set against the intricate backdrop of Regency England.” [Publisher's Summary]
Delightful. That’s the first word that springs to mind when thinking about Wrede’s A Matter of Magic. And the first phrase? Gracious, but didn’t she manage to accomplish many things! Because this book – which brings together two previously released books into an omnibus edition – has several aspects: It’s a solid fantasy, a Regency romance, a mystery, and a comedy of errors. What’s better? Wrede pulls it off.
Our street thief heroine, Kim, gets caught snooping about in a magician’s traveling wagon. Imagine her surprise when he turns out to, you know, actually be a magician and, worse, she gets knocked on her butt by a spell she accidentally trips. The fantasy aspect of the story revolves entirely around magic; there is a Royal College of Magic, magicians are in the higher echelon of society, and not everyone is capable of becoming one. In this sense, the story strays closer to high fantasy or, stretching a little, perhaps even to magical realism. Basically, for this fantasy-binging reader, it was a nice change of pace from urban and paranormal.
The magician – Mairelon – surprises Kim by offering her an apprenticeship, which means security, food, clothes, not to mention a place to stay safe from other thieves while keeping her out of the hands of those willing to trade flesh for coin. Like any smart thief who wants to make good might, Kim jumps at the chance. Over the course of the two novels the reader sees the trust build between these two, the willing acceptance of each as they are, and the romance that follows is little more than a lovely feather tucked in towards the end. These two earned their relationship which made it that much sweeter.
There is the mystery angle as, in the first story, Mairelon and Kim are trying to track down magical items known as the Saltesh Set, and in the second story, someone has set sight on becoming a magician by any means necessary, forcing Mairelon and Kim to find out who and why. The mystery drove the story as much as (maybe even more than) the fantasy bit. Being a mystery buff, too, I enjoyed watching the two put things together.
As for the comedy of errors, well, it was amusing, the situations that Mairelon and Kim found themselves in, if not laugh out loud funny, and played well off of the setting and the characters.
A Matter of Magic isn’t fast paced, it isn’t an I-must-read-this-in-one-sitting type of book, either. What it is is quite enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of well-written hybrid tales. I liked it quite a bit.
Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears – leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.
But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can.
She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.
…and the end left me saying “Oh, what the hell.”
My enjoyment of Carriger’s debut, Soulless, was ensured by its fun, deftly outrageous tone, and characters that were just off center enough to be quirky rather than abrasive. Having met Lord Akeldama, it was imperative that I pick up Changeless if only to bask in his superlative endearments. That Alexia was wonderful (and Lord Maccon, too,) was a bonus reason to pick it up shortly after the book’s release day.
You know what I thought after finishing it, but what about during…?
I liked it. Truly. But perhaps not quite as much as its predecessor. For one, some of the characters got on my last nerve. Ivy, who I found charming in her own way in book one, set my teeth on edge at times, and Alexia’s sister, Felicity, should have had a parasol or some other form of a gag shoved in her mouth shortly after her arrival on scene. But here’s the thing: they annoyed Alexia, that was partly their role, and so it can’t be held against them if they annoy the reader, too. (I fully realize that they were also meant to provide some of the story’s humor, and they came through on occasion.) Plus, Lord Maccon did a bit too much roaring/yelling (and that even though I enjoy a good Conall roar every now and again,) Alexia didn’t exhibit much growth or development of character, and there just wasn’t enough Akeldama to satisfy (me.)
While the pacing was still wonderfully swift, and action blended well with investigation, the storyline didn’t hold my attention quite so much as it did in Soulless. It did, however, provide some nice backstory in terms of Alexia’s father and established that what isn’t known about preternaturals could fill several more books. And just might.
Then there was that ending. I just…I mean, I know it’s meant to be a nice, dramatic lead-in to Blameless – and by the way, don’t read the summary for Blameless before reading Changeless unless you want to be somewhat spoiled – but…I didn’t like the turn it took. There. I said it. And I can’t say anything more without spoiling things myself. (Except maybe, for those who’ve read it, it was Lord Maccon’s reaction that did it in. Not Alexia.)
As you can see this is all very objective. Ahem.
If you liked the first book in the series I’m sure you’ll feel similarly about this second one. I liked it, despite my gah moment at the end, and I’ll definitely be reading Blameless come September.
Griffins lounged all around them, inscrutable as cats, brazen as summer. They turned their heads to look at Kes out of fierce, inhuman eyes. Their feathers, ruffled by the wind that came down the mountain, looked like they had been poured out of light; their lion haunches like they had been fashioned out of gold. A white griffin, close at hand, looked like it had been made of alabaster and white marble and then lit from within by white fire. Its eyes were the pitiless blue-white of the desert sky.
Little ever happens in the quiet villages of peaceful Feierabiand. The course of Kes’ life seems set: she’ll grow up to be an herb-woman and healer for the village of Minas Ford, never quite fitting in but always more or less accepted. And she’s content with that path — or she thinks she is. Until the day the griffins come down from the mountains, bringing with them the fiery wind of their desert and a desperate need for a healer. But what the griffins need is a healer who is not quite human . . . or a healer who can be made into something not quite human.
Having read – and loved – The City in the Lake, I was very much looking forward to reading Lord of the Changing Winds, the first book in the Griffin Mage trilogy. Aside from Neumeier’s writing, which captivated me completely in her YA debut, the promise of such compelling creatures as griffins lured me to the bookstore on release day.
Green pastures and arid deserts. Cool breezes and ferocious, hot winds. The first thing that smacks at you is the atmosphere, the veracity of the setting. It’s Neumeier’s writing, her ability to create fantasy landscapes that rise off the page like lines on a topographical map. And it’s not a bad way to start a novel, with the feel of green grass underfoot and the warmth of the sun overhead.
Along with the world comes a quiet girl happy to keep her own company. From the first meeting I understood who Kes was, and knew just as well that she would become more. Though I can’t say with certainty that I liked Kes, I felt for her, I think, because her timidity and introverted way struck a nerve with me.
“She didn’t say that she was not afraid, exactly. It had been a long time since she’d tried to explain to Tesme her feelings about people, about crowds, about the hard press of their expectations. From the time she had been little, everyone else had seemed to see the world from a different slant than Kes. To understand, without even trying, unspoken codes and rules that only baffled her. Talking to people, trying to shape herself into what they expected, was not exactly frightening. But it was exhausting and confusing and, in a way, the confusion itself was frightening. But Tesme did not seem able to understand any of this.”
Kes’ sister may not have understood, but I do, and so a connection was forged and I was willing to follow her into the desert alongside the mage who came for her. But after the first chapter, when I needed to know what came next for her, the narrative shifts and the reader is confronted with someone else, a man named Bertaud.
Of the human characters in this story, I had an uneasy time with most, but none so much as Bertaud. Before going further let me clarify: By uneasy, I do not mean to say that the characters were poorly done, but that their actions and intentions made me wary. Feeling so is a good thing, I’d say, as an unsettling character is often one you don’t soon forget. Bertaud pushed me and pulled me and made me unhappy a heartbeat before he made me proud. Both Bertaud and Kes are very unlikely heroes but, I suppose, in their own way and to different ends, they are.
As for the griffins, they are as I said before: compelling. Fierce, foreign, but wholly realized. Because their personalities only superficially mirror humanity’s, there is a bit of repetition when it comes to their descriptions, mostly so that the reader can differentiate between them; I found that it was necessarily done and evened out as the story moved forward. Also, the griffins have long, nearly unpronounceable names that you need to weigh in your mind before they’ll trip off the tongue. It took me some time to get used to their names, as it did the place names, but, again, this isn’t a criticism. It’s just a part of the world Neumeier created.
Lord of the Changing Winds is not fast paced; it is quiet at times, just like Kes, and casts a soft focus on being beholden to another’s will (from both sides of the leash) and one’s ability to choose how to be. And as most any story that has high fantasy leanings would, there is a fair bit of political intrigue present to up the stakes. The characters aren’t easy to enjoy, but I don’t think that’s their true purpose, though it may seem strange to say. As of now, the book is still settling in, but I know I will continue to think about it, and I’ve already purchased the second book, Land of the Burning Sands, to read as soon as I can.
For years the Shalador people suffered the cruelties of the corrupt Queens who ruled them, forbidding their traditions, punishing those who dared show defiance, and forcing many more into hiding. Now that their land has been cleansed of tainted Blood, the Rose-Jeweled Queen, Lady Cassidy, makes it her duty to restore it and prove her ability to rule.
But even if Lady Cassidy succeeds, other dangers await. For the Black Widows see visions within their tangled webs that something is coming that will change the land-and Lady Cassidy-forever…[Summary from B&N]
I’ve said many times before that I love Anne Bishop’s books and the world and characters she has created in her Black Jewels series. I’ve said it, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to inject the *love* I feel into the statement. Because it’s an unreasonable love, in a the-heart-wants-what-the-heart-wants kind of way; Bishop can do no wrong by me because my heart very much wants her books. So I’m going to take a moment and risk being repetitive and say: Reading a Black Jewels book is like coming home for me. For such a vicious world, I always feel calm, content, happy even when I’m there. And I miss it terribly when I turn the last page, knowing that I’m going to have to wait a year, maybe more, to catch up with the characters again. And the day Ms. Bishop decides their stories are done? Please, no one come near me. I’ll be inconsolable.
Now that I’ve nicely set-up my complete and utter bias, the review. I’ll try to be objective, really, I will, but don’t hold it against me if I fail. Alright?
So, Shaldador’s Lady takes up where The Shadow Queen left off. Theran is as convinced as ever that Cassidy is not right for Dena Nehele, despite the fact that her entire court, his servants, and the majority of the landen in the province adore her. He acts blindly, he’s arrogant and hurtful, and remarkably I felt bad for him in this novel. (Just a little bit, and only towards the end, but even so.) Cassidy’s court hasn’t softened towards him whatsoever; the crux of the conflict stems from how to deal with his obstinacy and Cassidy’s fears while maintaining a very tenuous peace with Blood and landen alike.
What I Loved: Gray’s growing friendship with Lucivar, Daemon and Saetan, and the fact that he draws a very definite line in the sand with Theran; Khollie and the rest of the scelties; a certain scene between Lucivar and Daemon (which cannot be named for its spoiler potential); Ranon and his “my heart is too full for words” moment; and I could keep going. But…
Now for the objective part. Was Shalador’s Lady the best Black Jewels book? No. It lost a great deal of the original trilogy’s threat. I was expecting things to get a bit violent, or at the very least physical, and was surprised by the path the resolution took. Not that it was bad, per se, but an enraged Lucivar is a sight to behold. (And Daemon, too. And Saetan. And I kind of wanted to see Gray rise to that challenge. Or even Ranon. And, okay, maybe I wanted to see Cassidy deck someone.) I also felt that this story went light on the world-building that makes the Black Jewels books so phenomenal. But that’s only because I really want to dig in deep, to wrap it around myself as I’m reading. (Like I said, the heart wants…)
Do you all have books or series that when someone speaks negatively about them you feel a pang of hurt? Or your stomach kind of dips? I have a few of them, and the Black Jewels books – all of them – make the list. I want to shout from a rooftop “Read these books!” but I’m too afraid to put them out there because I want everyone to love them as much as I do. And that’s just not reasonable. All I can say is, I can’t help it. Yes, my love is definitely beyond reason.
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. [Summary from Amazon]
If you like your teen girl narrator’s quick-witted and kind of quirky, pick up Rachel Hawkins’ Hex Hall. By a country mile, Sophie is the most appealing aspect of the novel. She is funny and self-deprecating, she’s a loyal friend, easily flustered by cute boys (but manages to hold her own with them,) and I just liked her. Simple as that.
Another appeal: the humor. Sophie’s funny, I already mentioned that, but she’s also chock full of pop culture references, and manages to land a vamp roommate who plays off her quips beautifully. What I appreciated about the humor was that 1) it never veered too close to cutesy territory and 2) the pop culture references, for the most part, never felt like they would noticeably date the book.
While I very much enjoyed Sophie and the book’s tone, I wasn’t quite as taken with the actual story (or the love interest.) Maybe I’ve read too many other books with a similar set-up – girl does something wrong, gets sent to a boarding school, clashes with mean girls, crushes on a cute but unattainable guy – to feel like Hex Hall was doing anything stupendously different.The paranormal element was nice; I liked that the focus was on witches rather than the more common vamps, shifters, and fae (though they were represented.) And a twist at the end was a neat set-up for the next part of Sophie’s story.
As for the love interest…I would have thrown him over in a heartbeat for the groundskeeper, Cal, who, unfortuately and barring his role in any future sequels, came across as a bit of throwaway character. Which is a shame because he definitely snagged my attention. (I’m hoping that he will have a bigger role in whatever book follows. There was this one line…)
In any event, Hex Hall was a quick read and a pleasant one.