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Hexbreaker (Hexworld, #1)
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Fantasy Discussions > Hexbreaker, by Jordan L. Hawk

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Ulysses Dietz | 1571 comments Hexbreaker (Hexworld, Box 1)
By Jordan L. Hawk
Print Length: 259 pages
Publisher: Widdershins Press LLC (May 6, 2016)
ASIN: B01CX2J350
Five stars

I am going to love this series, and I loved her short story “The 13th Hex” as well. I am a big fan of the “Widdershins” series, but have never quite believed the fictitious city itself. It feels too English, somehow. Not that it was ever a big problem for me. The magic and the plot arcs in the Widdershins world are very big—almost epic. “Hexworld,” at least so far, seems more focused, more realistic, if a world filled with witches and their familiars can be seen as realistic.

Tom Halloran is a cop with a huge secret. He’s with the regular police, but is, remarkably, uncorrupt and much beloved in his neighborhood. He’s not only a witch, but he hides a grim past that he knows will condemn him if it is ever made known.

Cicero, on the other hand, is an immigrant and a cat familiar. An English-born Italian, he is sleek and elegant and foppish in exactly the way that overt members of the homosexual subculture in the 1890s were. He is not part of upper-class mainstream society in New York; thus he can get away with his behavior in the world of the Witch Police. Indeed, he is expected to behave as he does (and he’s brilliantly cat-like). All that he lacks is a witch to bond with. And then he meets the big, burly, uncouth Tom Halloran, and to his horror he realizes that this is his witch.

I loved both Cicero and Tom right away. I loved the way Hawk makes Tom smarter and more intuitive than he looks. He figures out Cicero’s prejudices pretty quickly, but his own instincts are unwavering—take care of people. He has failed horribly in the past, but there are reasons for those failures. Moreover, there are lots of complex characters in the book, both good and bad. We really delve into the demimonde of queer subculture in the 1890s—referred to euphemistically as “bohemian.” This included not only gays and lesbians, but anarchists, free-love advocates, suffragists and anyone else who champed at the bit of conformity.

There is plenty of moral ambiguity in this book. Tom is living a lie to save himself. The regular police are heavily corrupt. The Witch Police control the lives of un-bonded familiars with far too much authority to be comfortable to modern minds. They keep them safe and off the streets; but they’re not really free. Freedom is a double-edged sword in a world where there are no social safety nets. This isn’t a world where the good guys never make mistakes or do questionable things. This is in fact a lot more realistic that the carefully choreographed moral purity of a lot of m/m fiction, including Hawks’ Widdershins books. Late Victorian America was a messy place, full of violence and inequity. People had to play the hands they were dealt, and sometimes bad choices were made.

Jordan Hawk isn’t the first author to posit a world where magic is just part of the landscape. The idea of a Witch Police department operating parallel to (but not always cooperatively with) the regular police is a fantastic hook. The complex relationship between familiars and their witches surely draws from the current trope of shifters and pair-bonding that has produced a great deal of excellent m/m romance in the past five years. It turns the whole stereotypical witch and black cat archetype on its head; especially because the familiar population tends to be same-sex oriented, something that gives it a particular potency in the context of late Victorian America. Magic can’t be denied or avoided; therefore, the homosexual pairings of familiars and witches can’t simply be ignored or demonized in quite the way queer folk were in the real world at the time. (Homosexual is a term invented in this period, too, by the way.)

For the Hexbreaker series the New York of the late 1890s is very vivid, subtly insinuated into the plot on every page. This is the New York on the other side of the glamorous Gilded Age of Fifth Avenue and the Vanderbilts. This is the New York of poor immigrants, sweatshop workers, and hidden night-spots that catered to people with unorthodox sexual inclinations. I noticed that Hawk used George Chauncey’s masterful history of gay New York as a source. I have a professional interest in this period as a museum curator, plus I’ve read other fiction set in New York of this era—from Jack Finney’s classic time-travel novel “Time and Again,” to Caleb Carr’s much less nuanced “The Alienist.” I also confess a personal link to the exact time and place in which Cicero and Tom Halloran live. In New York in late 1897, my great grandfather, Frederick Grant, had just replaced his friend Teddy Roosevelt as Police Commissioner.

I am so excited about this new series. I hope they continue to be as compelling and beautifully written as this first volume.


PaperMoon | 665 comments Just finished reading this and loved loved it. Cicero as a given name is spectacular!

The paranormal horror elements is spot on scary enough for me - which is what I've come to expect from the author. The setting and style reminds me of Melissa Scott's Ned and Julian series. Definitely not as OTT as the author's Whybourne & Griffin books; although the Tyack and Frayne series Harper Fox is chillingly better IMO.


message 3: by Octobercountry (new)

Octobercountry | 1169 comments Mod
I'll agree, I greatly enjoyed these first two entries in the author's new supernatural series, which features interesting plots and likable characters. And I do appreciate that it's smaller in scale than the Widdershins series. Oh, don't get me wrong, I do like the Widdershins books as well; have read them all. But it seems like everything that happens in them is so super-dramatic that there's a chance of the world being destroyed in every single story! And it's nice that this new series isn't quite so over-the-top.


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