This blog was originally posted on witchesandpagans.com and was reprinted with permission of the author.
Titles: The 13th Hex, Hexbreaker, Hexmaker, and A Christmas Hex
Author/Publisher: Jordan L. Hawk
Price: 99 cents to $4.99
It is the end of the 19th century. Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt oversees the vast police force of greater New York City, including the elite Witch Police. In a world where magic is the norm — used for everything from fire suppression to targeted advertising to surgery — the Witch Police are responsible for protecting the people against those who would use magic for nefarious purposes: including murder.
There are three elements to the Witch Police. The hexwo/men who create the beautiful sigils meant to harness arcane powers; the Familiar who channels the magic into the hex; and the Witch who activates the hex. The Witch and Familiar make a unique bonded pair, a harmonious whole. In theory, anyway. In reality, Familiars are treated as second-class citizens in American society; given their ability to assume animal form, they are considered barely human. Most are exiled by their families and stripped of their surnames. It is not uncommon for unbonded Familiars to be kidnapped, imprisoned, and starved until they agree to bond with a witch; the practice may be “unsavory,” but it is perfectly legal. As a result, feral Familiars have formed small self-sufficient communities, and some have become so radicalized that they want to tear down the existing society by any means necessary and create a new one, a therianthocracy.
And this where our heroes come in. The plot builds slowly over the course of the series as, in between investigating bank robberies and kidnappings and murders, more and more bits of the conspiracy are unveiled. At the same time, while those who are planning violent revolt are the villains, they are not wholly unsympathetic; considering the fact that many live in a constant state of fear, and are abused and starved, their desire for change is completely understandable. At the same time, the means by which they are trying to achieve that change — kidnapping and draining Familiars who do not agree with them, and mass murder of innocent civilians — are absolutely unacceptable.
I love Hexworld. Hawk has created an entertaining, engrossing series filled with detailed world-building and complex characters. For example, Tom Halloran in Hexbreaker is a former gang member desperately trying to make a normal life for himself; he did some bad things once upon a time, so now he keeps his head down and tries to do right by the people under his protection. In Hexmaker, Malachi is a fox Familiar who was thrown out by his family and now works as a thief; it’s something he’s actually good at, giving him a sense of purpose and accomplishment (and he only steals from people who can afford to lose a few pretty baubles). Then there is Owen Yates, a child of privilege who is torn between family duty and serving his community, between the requirement that he marry to advance his family’s ambitions and his desire for Malachi. There’s also Augustus Cao in A Christmas Hex, a Witch of mixed Chinese and Irish descent; while he has some status as a Witch, he is simultaneously looked down upon due to his ethnicity.
The various statuses and relationships between Hexwo/men, Witches, and Familiars allows Hawk to explore racial and ethnic prejudice, gender construction, sexuality, socioeconomic status, the nature of terrorism, and religion not just historically, but, more importantly, in the modern world. Owen Yates’ family, for example, is highly educated, Caucasian, and Protestant. They look down on Malachi because he is Irish and Catholic and a Familiar; so far as they are concerned, he will never amount to anything and should Know His Place. Catholicism is considered a heresy, due to its devotion to Mary Magdalene, Christ’s Holy Familiar. No doubt the Yates family and their ilk would be aghast if Augustus Cao were to explain that, in Chinese society, Familiars are not ostracized but remain with their families; bondings with Witches are even arranged and treated like marriages, with the ceremony performed in a temple and blessed by the Gods. (I’m curious as to how this ties in with the Chinese zodiac, and hope Hawk explores this further in future volumes.) Additionally, while women have few rights in mainstream society and homosexuality is never spoken of aloud, women are treated as equals in the Witch Police, and Familiars are almost all homosexual. Hawk even takes the opportunity to critique modern prejudices against the transgender community through the character of Nathan Yates, Owen’s younger brother; born female, he underwent hex-based gender affirmation surgery in France. Their parents, of course, thoroughly disapproved and have been reluctant to welcome Nathan back into the fold.
The Hexworld books are fun, fast, and highly entertaining, with hidden depths that will keep the reader engaged long after the last page. I can’t wait to read the next book, and the book after that, and the book after that.
Highly recommended to fans of Megan Derr, KJ Charles, Astrid Amara, Rhys Ford, Zoe Archer, and Thea Harrison.
[Note: The 13th Hex is available as part of the Charmed and Dangerous anthology, and as a stand-alone novella. If you are curious about Hexworld, this first story is a good place to start. A Christmas Hex is also an excellent stand-alone story; I hope Cao and his lupine Familiar appear in more stories.]