Monday, May 27, 2013

Thanks To A Binding Spell, That Magic Was Gone

This review is for those who have read or are familiar with the previous books, Hex Hall and Demonglass, or don't mind knowing some spoilers for them. Spell Bound, however, will remain spoiler-free.

Spell Bound
~Spell Bound~
Hex Hall
Book 3
By Rachel Hawkins

Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Talk about terrible timing...

Just as Sophie Mercer has come to accept her extraordinary magical powers as a demon, the Prodigium Council strips them away. With her powers locked inside her, Sophie is defenseless, alone, and at the mercy of her sworn enemies—the Brannicks, a family of warrior women who hunt down the Prodigium. Or at least that’s what Sophie thinks, until she makes a surprising discovery. The Brannicks know an epic war is coming, and they believe Sophie is the only one powerful enough to stop the world from ending. But without her magic, Sophie isn’t so sure.

The only known spell that can help Sophie regain her magic is at Hex Hall—the place where it all began, and now the headquarters of the evil Casnoffs. Together with her best friend, the vampire Jenna; her boyfriend, Archer; her fiancé, Cal (yeah, her love life is complicated); and a ghost for a sidekick, Sophie must battle an army of demons. But even with her friends at her side, the fate of all Prodigium rests on her shoulders alone.

Sophie’s bound for one hell of a ride... Can she get her powers back before it’s too late?

Picking up where Demonglass left off, Sophie has just fallen smack dab in the middle of a sticky situation and once again has to use her snark and wits to save her skin. However, thanks to a binding spell that's trapped her powers, she doesn't have her amazing magic skills to help her out, so now all she's got to rely on is her sarcasm and a little help from her friends to save not only herself, but the whole world. Not exactly what the Hex Hall brochure promised.

Sophie is the same character as always. Sassy, headstrong, and a little too snarky for her own good. It was an interesting move stripping her from her magic completely, leaving her at the mercy of her enemies. And it kinda worked...but at the same time it didn't. She's literally powerless to anything anyone tries, but she won't shut up. She says a couple times that her mouth runs when she's scared, but it seems like there's no difference from when she's not scared, so she just comes off as unfazed by anything. This can either make the character seem brave or just unbelievable, and unfortunately the latter came through for me.

But what about her buddies who have her back? Them I liked, even if their emotions came off as a little too convenient at times. Archer is still the same snarky bad boy with a good hear. Cal is the stoic rock who can keep everyone grounded. Jenna was the perfect best friend, but I'll admit she was a little too perfect at times, a point which even Sophie recognized. But mentioning your mistakes doesn't make us forgive them.

Which brings us to the last member of our Scooby gang, Elodie the ghost. You'll remember Elodie from book one as the super-bitchy antagonist/rival who ended up not being as bad as our heroine first thought. Book two had Elodie as a typical plot booster, letting Sophie know information she couldn't have possibly known in order to get her moving in the right direction. Here, Elodie is the super plot convenience. Not only can she snoop around gathering information, she can also possess Sophie's body at any time in order to do magic, even when everyone else's powers are blocked. Can't have your heroine perform magic? Don't worry, cause this seemingly non-related event which happened in book one created a loophole!

Which is unfortunate, because I think Elodie's character could have benefited from even more development had she not just been a plot contrivance. In book one she said that she was sent to Hex Hall because she made someone vanish completely, and while she was there she accidentally killed a classmate and framed another in the pursuit of power. Why is she suddenly helpful? Is this atonement? Is she merely helping Sophie in order to be free of her? Yeah, what she does in relation to the Cal/Archer/Sophie triangle is a little character driven, but honestly that situation didn't need her help. I would have liked to see more of what made her tick, but unfortunately what she did was seen as more important than why she did it.

But if you thought Elodie was the only loophole, think again. Like me you may have already seen this coming from the end of the last book, but Sophie's mom is a Brannick. Now, this could have been handled in an interesting way, but it wasn't. The Brannicks being Sophie's family could have been a huge exploration into how magical and non-magical people could coexist, or even a stepping stone towards a treaty between Prodigium, Brannicks and The Eye, seeing how Sophie is the union between magic, Brannicks, and is dating Archer. But no, they're treated mainly as a giant info-dump, explaining Sophie's past, what's happening now, and what the next step is. A huge waste, if you ask me, of a pretty elaborately constructed loophole.

You want the backstory of said loophole? Well remember how Sophie and her mom moved around constantly? Yeah, it's because her mom had a magical (and 90% sure demon) baby and knew her family would hunt her down because of it. So the fact that Sophie knew nothing about ANYTHING all her life wasn't because her mom was a normal human, it was because her mom intentionally kept it from her. But it's okay because now we have people who can help us take down the bad magic people. Crisis averted! Personally, I've always been against withheld information for the sake of withholding it. It makes me downright furious unless there is a valid explanation for why it was done. Here, no reasoning, no apologies, no nothing because the fate of the world is a little more important and O gosh, it's good to see you. NO! NOT OKAY!

Furthermore, the loophole-leading-into-info-dumps screw with the themes the series has already established. In Hex Hall, Sophie was given nothing and had to do her own sleuthing to figure things out. Demonglass had a little less sleuthing but still had her going behind people's backs to gather information. Now all the mystery is taken out of everything because she's suddenly being showered with information left and right. Even the villain is in on the dumping!

I kid you not, there is a scene where Sophie is called into the same room with baddie, Lara Casnoff and told point-blank what her motivation is and what her plans are. Okay, not only is this bad writing, but it's insulting to the characters. This villain isn't stupid. That's established in Demonglass by the fact that no one knew what she was doing, even as it was happening right under their noses. So don't make her reveal her entire plan to the one person who can bring her down. Don't make her motivation as weak as "Daddy wanted it". And most importantly, don't rewrite her as super crazy. She's smart, she's sneaky, and she's obviously been working hard at this for quite some time. Don't make her a stupid, rambling, crazy witch for the sake of an easy ending.

However, where Lara failed epically, her sister Mrs. (Anastasia) Casnoff was a gem of a supporting character. We've seen her for three books now, and her characterization only grows more intricate as time goes on. While Hex Hall had her merely as a knowledgeable headmistress looking out for her charges, and Demonglass showed her as an undercover villain working behind the scenes, Spell Bound wove both elements into a surprisingly strong character. I won't give away too much, but despite her relatively minor role overall, I think Mrs. Casnoff will be one character readers will remember even more than characters their own age.

In fact, the students were completely wasted. Yeah, the entire cast from Hex Hall makes a return here a la the takeover of Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows. But even as Sophie and her crew plot and scheme to take down the Casnoffs, there's no attempt whatsoever to use the other students as backup. Heck, they don't even make any attempt to tell them what's going on. And it's not as if everyone's powerless — the shifters can obviously still transform, and who knows what magic the fairies are capable of — but no, the chosen ones leave everyone on their own. 'Cause that'll make the final battle even more dramatic and awesome!

...Or not. What could/should have been an amazing action-packed battle sequence is completely glossed over and handled off-screen. Not even gonna elaborate on that, it's just disappointing.

In all respects, this book just didn't fit. The strength of the series was in its frivolity, when Sophie could be a snarky girl exploring a new world and new abilities and having fun. Throw in some romantic angst and some drama so the main character can grow cause it's YA, but the story was still about discovery and fun. Once the fate of the world was at stake, the tone changed. It was no longer about a snarky girl discovering new things, it was about a warrior taking down the bad guys. And Sophie just never was a warrior, neither in training nor mindset, thus throwing her in the middle of things just didn't feel right.

That being said, I still think the ending was handled just about as well as it could have been. Once the action concluded, the characters felt organic again, especially Sophie. I really liked how the deaths were handled, how they actually had weight even after a month had passed. And I loved how the ending felt like a new beginning; there are still lose ends here and there, uncertainties still ahead, but that's just how life goes.

Overall, I think fans of the series will still appreciate this conclusion. It's not perfect by any means, but the gang's still here for those who love 'em so I'd definitely recommend it for Hex Hall enthusiasts who are pining for the wrap-up of Sophie's journey. There is some mild language, teen romance, and a good bit of violence including some battle scenes and torture, so I'd recommend this for late middle school and up. While I found Spell Bound a rough piece of work, I still appreciated the series as a whole and look forward to exploring Hawkins' next series in the near future. So if you're looking for an action-packed finale with your favorite snarky heroine, go pick up Spell Bound today.

Approximate Reading Time: 3.5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Cris Dukehart
Length: 7.5 Hours
Listened at 2x Speed

Pretty much on par with the rest of the trilogy. Maybe a smidge better than the last book, with less noticeable pauses, but still nothing amazing in terms of narration or character voices. Cris continues to do a good job with Sophie's sarcasm and snark, but is a little underwhelming on many of the male voices. The more accents that came into play, the more people started sounding the same.

There were a couple instances where Sophie yelled/screamed something where the volume got noticeably louder. Unfortunately, I already had the sound up pretty high as I was reading along, so the increase was very sudden and a little overpowering for me. Still, I'd say it was a good bit of acting, just try to be prepared for it.

Overall a fitting end to the trilogy. Glad that the same narrator stuck it out through all three books, and that she was a good fit for Sophie. Would have loved more differentiation done with the other characters, but it was passable. I'd recommend checking it out if you have the chance, but maybe try the sample or the library before purchasing.