Title: Rebel Belle
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Series: Rebel Belle #1
Published: April 8th, 2014
Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper’s destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.
Just when life can’t get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she’s charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper’s least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him–and discovers that David’s own fate could very well be to destroy Earth. With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y’all beg for more. –Goodreads
Alright, so let me be the first to admit that Rebel Belle is a bit deceiving. At a glance, you might think you’re in for something sweet, silly, and lighthearted—your usual bubble-gum paranormal romance. And it is. Kinda. For like…the first five pages or so, just before Harper Price, regular lip gloss-wearing Homecoming-obsessed teen, is forced to kill a dude with a shoe. A pink high-heeled shoe in a girls’ bathroom, to be specific. Granted, it was in self-defense, but still. Sorta slaps that sugary expectation right out of you, no?
Anyway, after the attack Harper inherits powers and becomes a Paladin, the next in a long line of guardians now responsible for protecting David Stark, who may or may not be her high school nemesis and key to earth’s destruction. Quickly, the story evolves into one about friendship, trust, and stepping up to accept the responsibility to do what’s right when you have the power to do so.
Shoe-induced deaths aside, there is so much to appreciate about this book. It’s completely original, the world-building well-fleshed out yet surprisingly easy to digest despite its complexity. “Paladin” is word rarely seen in YA lit, but the way Hawkins has integrated her magic system into Harper’s world is so flawless it feels almost easy, leading one to wonder why paladins aren’t already more popular. Learning about the different kinds of magic, the Paladins’ position and place in history, and Harper’s new role as a guardian is an adventure in itself, one that unfolds naturally with twisty reveals up until the very end. Truly, if you’re interested in unique low fantasy, it doesn’t get better than this.
Even Harper, as preppy perfect as she may come off at first (the result of working very hard to win at life), is unique, especially in our world where readers are still quick to embrace the Katniss kind of “strong” heroine. For lack of a better word, Harper is girly, a real Southern belle, but unwilling to shy away from danger or doing what needs to be done to protect those in her life. She cares deeply about people, and some scenes are so saturated with FRIENDSHIP that it’s two hugs away from being gross. In addition, true to Hawkins’ personal writing style, Harper comes with a dry sense of humor that’s hard not to appreciate regardless of your regular taste in comedy, especially when she’s with David.
Romance-wise, just by reading the description you can guess who Harper is going to be kissing by the end of the book, but how the romance develops might be surprising because…because….well, it ISN’T rushed. David himself is a character that’s just as unique and well-developed as Harper. He’s not the expected “dark and mysterious” boy with sculpted muscles, piercing eyes, and love-at-first-sight oily magnetism. He’s David, a journalist hipster with posters of Middle-earth on his walls and an attitude to rival Harper’s. The two make an unusual pair but they’re far from forced, growing together as the mystery that is Paladin History unfolds. You believe in their friendship before you believe in the romance, which is always the kind of love I hope to find in YA lit.
I really could go on and on about this book, but I think I’ve gushed long enough to make my point. TL;DR, the bottom line is that Rebel Belle is a must-read for those looking for a low fantasy book with a lot of plot and character development (but is still easy to follow), humor, and a promise of darker magic in the next installment. Trust me, you’ll be craving sweet tea and the sequel when you’re done!
Rating: 5 spoons