by Rachel Hawkins
Series: Hex Hall, #1
Released on: March 2nd, 2010
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Rating: 4 stars
Word rating: Welcome to sassy paranormal fluff paradise
Reviewed by: Ellis
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.
Welcome to Hex Hall, a world where girls sigh "not again" when they've been discovered as witches, where people look vaguely annoyed when their son turns into a werewolf and attacks a fellow student, and where a Lord-Byron-turned-vampire is under glorified house arrest because he kept trying to sneak back to England to turn the rest of the human race, probably so that they could party in black and purple velvet and sip on extra Bloody Marys (Maries?) forever. Or, as I like to call it, welcome to sassy paranormal fluff paradise, pop culture references free of charge. It's a trip.
Your guide on this trip will be Sophie Mercer, the most unprepared and untrained witch in the history of ever, save maybe for the Worst Witch herself, though they certainly do share a some rather defining traits. You guessed it, she's the girl who was discovered to be a witch in the prologue when she was trying to help a dateless classmate get with the most popular guy in school, a spell that turned this school dance into a slightly less terrifying version of Carrie and ended with Sophie being expelled to Hecate Hall, a boarding school for out of control supernatural beings. Or, as she likes to call it, juvie for monsters.
Considering that most of that paragraph is a collection of more or less direct quotes, you can see that I was not kidding about the pop culture references being free of charge. This is especially hilarious when Sophie is confronted with older generations, who usually have no idea what she's even talking about, and generally let her be. Excellent distraction tactics, if I do say so myself. It also leads to moments of pure gold, such as this one:
"Now, Sophia, would you care to tell me why you’re here by the pond instead of reporting to your next class?"
"I’m experiencing some teenage angst, Mrs. Casnoff, I answered. “I need to, like, write in my journal or something."
Or maybe I'm the only one who finds that level of sass funny. It's also a thousand times better in context. That's the thing with this world though. It's comprised of all these spunky, sassy, eccentric characters who are extremely loyal to their own kind (white witch, dark witch, werewolf, shifter, faery, etc.), which makes for hilarious situations since their school is working with an interspecies rooming arrangement. Let's just say that a shifter getting kicked out for the night because her roommate wants to contact the Seelie court with some friends is not all that uncommon.
This colourful backdrop aside, my absolute favourite thing about this book is Sophie Mercer. Sure, she's clumsy and speaks before she thinks, but she's aware of all this. It's never made into this cute quirk (love), but she doesn't apologise for it either (double love), nor does she really feel the need to (triple love). She's hilarious and the way she phrases things, as well as her general "winging it in life" attitude, made me straight imprint on her. She's also a girl who values her cake, which just goes to show she has her priorities sorted. She does have a tendency to assume the best in people, which generally gets her in trouble, since everyone here sort of has their own agenda going, which sometimes results in terrifyingly familiar and super dramatic "done with this shit I quit life" storming-off session, which makes me love her all the more.
Part of her frustration is that she has no idea who or what she actually is. Raised by a human single mother with a healthy interest in the occult - my favourite type of people, to be honest - Sophie just accepted that she was a witch, and that was that. She had no idea there was this entire system and code for how Prodigium should behave. She got her magic from her father, but he never really bothered to stay in contact with her, supposedly for her own protection, never mind actually inform her of the usual stuff. This explains why she's so quick to believe whatever her supernatural classmates tell her.
A second part of her frustration is the witchy trinity Anna, Elodie and Chaston, a coven of dark witches who initially set out to recruit Sophie. They're introduced as the mean, popular girls with a slightly forbidden and seriously dangerous agenda. Of the three, Elodie is the most fascinating to me. I love how she refuses to be looked at as a monster ever again, and while her tactics to ensure that might be a little extreme at this, there is still something strangely human about her that I can't really explain. Often, Sophie goes on about how shallow she is, but I have a feeling that there's more to her, and sometimes you catch a glimpse of that. She has sketchy morals for sure, but I won't lie that the tentative friendship that eventually develops between her and Sophie is all kinds of glorious.
The third, and arguably largest part of Sophie's frustration is her romantic life, which basically translates to Archer Cross in this case. In all honesty, I originally shipped Sophie with the guy that accidentally wolfed out and then sort of accidentally attacked Sophie because she was laughing at him. Archer was the asshole who saved her and then smirked at her that maybe she wasn't in the right place if she tried to defend herself with "Bad dog." instead of using her powers. This asshole. (I might be using that term affectionately here but I'm still sort of fighting it because they are 100% the douchiest ship but also I love them so much and my general happiness sort of depends on them being together in all their assholish glory.)
But then they have to pair up and fight each other in supernatural gym class, they get detention together because of an incident related to fighting in supernatural gym class, and even though Archer is dating Elodie and Sophie is fully aware he's an asshole, she can feel herself falling in love with him and she's fighting it, because she really doesn't want to but also she can't help it. And that kind of emotional turmoil is what gets me 3000% too invested for my own good, because I love it when characters are fighting their feelings, and I love it when they're making jokes and unknowingly insulting and annoying each other and then finally more or less apologise, but not really straight-up apologise, after a good twenty minutes of obsessing over what the hell it is exactly that they said/did wrong. So yes, these assholes.
Luckily, in all this, there's Sophie's roommate Jenna, who, although occasionally a source of serious frustration herself, also helps her deal with the reality of a boarding school full of out-of-control supernatural dickheads. Jenna is upbeat and perky, with the occasional episode of gloom and doom, for completely legit but also spoilery reasons. She's the only vampire at Hex Hall and thus seen as an aberration because she was born human. Yes, there are some elitist purists at this school. They're reluctant BFFs at first, but their best friendship quickly turns genuine, in a full-on "us against the world" way. I love that when Jenna tells Sophie she's a lesbian, Sophie's initial reaction isn't "omg she's going to fall in love with me". Nor does she ever think that ever, because she realises that Jenna's sexuality isn't about her.
It's these apparently small but actually very important elements that made me so attached to this series. And that's why everyone should join me in unhealthily obsessing over it.