Wow, reading some of the popular reviews on Goodreads, it seems like Hexed is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel. Except, of course, I have to be difficult: I neither loved nor hated this. I can see why people would come down in either camp. Michelle Krys delivers an unlikable protagonist, Indigo, who nevertheless tries to be better in the midst of a harsh world (high school) made all the harsher by a shadowy war where neither side particularly cares about Indie and her family. In particular, I appreciated the twist at the end that reveals why the Family is so chill about the all-important book falling into the hands of the Priory’s sorcerers.
But I digress.
Indie discovers she is a witch. Maybe. The book actually hedges this for much longer than I expected (though, let’s be honest, “She’s not a witch, surprise!” would make for a very different book). Turns out that witches (and warlocks, if you’re a dude) are governed by the Family, and sorcerers are governed by the Priory. And each hates the other, because while both witches and sorcerers can both do magic, they are totally different, and sorcerers are evil. It’s like those two guys from Star Trek’s “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”:
Seriously, all we have to go on is the Family’s word that the Priory is evil. Well, that and the fact that Leo and Frederick killed Bishop and a bunch of other people to get to the book. But they could be an isolated case! #NotAllSorcerers
It’s worth noting that Krys shuts down the whole “Chosen One” nonsense very effectively. In addition to the Family’s gambit around the book, it’s pretty clear that Indie’s family of witches are not special. Indie is not special. The Family doesn’t care whether Indie, or her mom, or her aunt, or anyone else, really, lives or dies. Aside from assigning Bishop to train her and Jezebel’s … involvement? … the Family is nearly absent, because it turns out that what is a very personal conflict for Indie is not all that important on the grand scale. I like this idea; it’s certainly possible to have compelling stories about young characters “coming of age” into powers and such, without making them heroes or pivotal players in a political game whose complexities would probably elude them.
Still, Krys sketches out that broader conflict in about as vague terms as you can go. This is a problem that Hexed runs into a couple of times: namely, it feels like a very generic YA urban fantasy novel. Strike “witches” for vampires, werewolves, golems, or what-have-you, and replace the Family and Priory with two other groups at each other’s throats … and you have a large swath of the YA market right there. In terms of this conflict, Hexed doesn’t add anything new to the conversation. It doesn’t even offer the type of moral ambiguity other stories at least attempt: as previously mentioned, we’re told (shown?) that sorcerers bad, witches good, end of story. Although Krys hints at nuance through the inaction of the Family, I would have welcomed a fuller exploration of these ideas.
I’m also not impressed with the fantasy component of Hexed in general. This is probably the fantasy nerd in me, who loves explanations of how the magic system works. Krys seems to have taken fairly stock ideas—incantations/spells, maybe some candles and incense—and combined those with a couple of cool showcases—flight, sticking someone in a movie screen, etc. So, yeah, there’s magic … but Indie doesn’t do much of it, and little of the book is focused on what it means for Indie to have these powers. There is a great deal of crisis crisis crisis and reaction, but not much time to sit down and think through the implications.
This same aversion to depth does not plague Indigo’s personal growth. When the story starts, Indie is quite literally a Mean Girl, or a Popular Bitch: she sits at the “Pretty People” table, as she describes it, is a star cheerleader, dates the quarterback, and parties all the time. She cringes at the idea of being associated with her nerdy next-door neighbour, but is fine with using her after she discovers that her best friend is not so great a friend. Indie sucks, and I totally get why people hate her.
But she tries to get better. When she learns she might be a witch, her first thought is not “I’ll put a hex on everyone! I’ll show them!” Unlike Sabrina the Teenaged Witch, who is probably a more likable character overall, Indie doesn’t immediately fool around with her magic for high school shenanigans. And although her new friendship with Paige begins as a sham, the first-person narration shows us that she gradually comes to understand her previous shallowness. I literally cheered when Indie gets up and walks over to sit with Paige at lunch—I was hoping all chapter that she would do it, and Krys delivered. Boo-yeah.
Unlike the dichotomy of Family versus Priory, Indie sees her friendships as something other than a binary. She might not be best friends with Bianca or Devon any more, but towards the end it’s clear they aren’t enemies either. It’s complicated. There needs to be some healing, some reconciliation. This is the nuance I was looking for, and it’s a realistic portrayal of the complex relationships we form in high school. (Or at least I would assume—I was never one half of “power couple” and never got cheated on by the other person.)
So there’s little bits to love and hate about Hexed, and I can see where the mileage varies. My feelings reading it reflect this: I was alternately engaged and uninterested, enthusiastic and then bored. It’s an uneven book whose flaws might be expected in a debut novel. I don’t blame other people for putting it down or not wanting to pick up the sequel—the fact that Krys is a local author will probably prompt me to give Charmed a try and see how her writing has changed.
That cover and jacket design tho. So gorgeous.