Title: Hexbreaker (Hexworld #1)
Publisher: Widdershins Press LLC
Author: Jordan L. Hawk
Pages: 244 pp
Price: $11.99 (paperback) / $4.99 (ebook)
I have to confess: I love Jordan L Hawk’s books. I have not read a single one which did not completely enthrall me: great characters, terrific world-building, plenty of action, and lots of angsty romance. As such, I was thrilled when I learned that she would be spinning off her novella “The Thirteenth Hex”* into a full series. Even better, she took one of the supporting characters from the novella, and gave him his own story.
To whit: it is near the end of the nineteenth century. The various boroughs of New York are preparing to unify into one greater City of New York — and the Metropolitan Witch Police are busy keeping the peace. Cicero is a Familiar with the MWP, a shape-shifting human whose ability to access the magical forces of the universe makes him simultaneously valued and oppressed. In this world, Familiars have no rights; while no longer slaves, it is still not unheard-of for Familiars to be forcibly bonded to a Witch, whether or not their magic is fully compatible. And a Familiar is trapped by the bond until the Witch dies ….
Cicero is under increasing pressure to bond with one of the Witch police officers. Happy (mostly) with his life as it is, Cicero has been able to put off his superiors. But when one unbounded Familiar disappears and another dies under mysterious circumstances, Cicero’s investigation leads him straight to uniformed nonmagical officer Tom Halloran–who turns out to be Cicero’s perfect match …. Never mind that Tom insists he is not a Witch …. Never mind that Tom is lying, and that he has been lying for years, and now those lies are coming back to haunt him as the city begins to fall into chaos around them ….
Okay, I’m going to stop there before I give too much away. Suffice to say, I loved this book. Hawk does an excellent job of exploring just how something like the existence of magic and Familiars would change a society, from gender norms to politics to religion. The Metropolitan Witch Police, for example, welcome female officers and Familiars. Additionally, Familiars–almost without exception–are homosexual; while such behavior might be frowned upon by the wider society, it is the norm within the magical community.
The political arena, too, is different. Anarchists, for example, are agitating not only for free love and women’s rights, but also for the rights of Familiars. There are even violent elements fighting for a the enslavement of normal humans and the elevation of Witches and Familiars.
Religion–too often ignored by authors–is also notably different. While Christianity is the dominant religion, Tom Halloran makes repeated references to “Saint Mary” and “Christ’s Holy Familiar.” The saint to whom he so often prays is not the Blessed Virgin Mary known to us, but Mary Magdalene–the Familiar of Jesus. A fascinating choice on Hawk’s part, considering Mary Magdalene’s ambiguous and controversial status in real-world Christianity (Judaism also exists in this universe; I would love to see a further exploration of it, particularly in regards to The Shekinah).
And then, of course, there is the magical system itself. Hexmen and -women draw the sigils, Familiars channel magic into them, and Witches activate them. Hexes are a completely normal, fully integrated part of society. Anti-fire hexes written on the sides of buildings prevent infernos, while anti-theft hexes protect homes and businesses alike. There are even hexes which can be drawn and consumed with absinthe to create pleasant hallucinations.
Hexbreaker is a wonderful start to a new paranormal romance series. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book. Highly recommended to fans of Annie Bellet, Zoe Archer, Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Lindsey Buroker, SM Reine, Rhys Ford, and Megan Derr.
*”The Thirteenth Hex’ is available as a stand-alone ebook, or as part of the Charmed and Dangerous anthology.