Monday, July 26, 2010

Rachel Hawkins, Hex Hall, 2010.

I read this YA fantasy novel on the advice of K--, who’s mentioned some books from time to time that I’ve enjoyed. This one is unremarkable: it’s full of time-worn tropes, and feels somewhat like a True Blood crossed with Twilight crossed with the standard boarding school bildungsroman.

Sophie Mercer, a young witch, casts a spell that goes awry and is sent to Hecate Hall (Hex Hall for short), a boarding reform school for misbehaving witches, warlocks, weres, shifters, and fairies, and one vampire—who happens to be Sophie’s new roomie. Cue the stern but caring headmistress, the obligatory not-dead-after-all Romantic poet, the hot groundskeeper, the extra hot boy who’s involved with the new archnemesis who in turn is doing everything she can to make Sophie’s life impossible. Add in the complexities of a family history that’s anything but ordinary, and you’ve got yourself a novel. No stirring necessary. Now, that’s not to say this book isn’t decently written: I think it’s quite well plotted (if, perhaps a little too obvious in the foreshadowing and telegraphing what is to come). My lack of fulsome praise comes more from the pedestrian characters (even if three of them do ride brooms on occasion) and the insufficiently creative environs. I will use the cliché “two-dimensional” as the characters don’t rise to needing better description from me; for two examples about the milieu, I’ll point to the contrast the main character draws between the groundskeeper and Hagrid, as well as Sophie’s detention exercise (cataloguing magical objects which wander about from shelf to shelf).

For all these criticisms, it’s far more entertaining than the sexist and abysmally written Twilight pabulum. It's better plotted than the Potter novels, and yet not nearly as rich in the world the author spins into being.

All in all, Hex Hall made me long for decently done YA fantasy.

sic transit Gloria mundi, et ubi sunt

  • Robin Mickinley (See especially The Blue Sword)

  • Pamela Service (The Reluctant God)

  • John Bellairs (Anything you open will reward your time.)

  • Rosemary Sutcliff(Start with Sword at Sunset)
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