Book Review: ‘Miss Mayhem’ by Rachel Hawkins

Miss 001Last year Rachel Hawkins’ Rebel Belle was one of my pleasant surprises – I didn’t know much about the book when I picked it up, but I was quickly sucked into the story. It’s a fun mix of contemporary and fantasy, with a sassy and memorable main character, a vivid setting, and a unique plot. I loved how Hawkins added humor and levity to what would normally be a very serious story, which makes it perfect for someone like me – I don’t normally gravitate toward fantasy stories because often I just find it a little too ridiculous to take seriously, but Rebel Belle winks at its own fantastical plot in such a way that I could appreciate the story without rolling my eyes, and with a few chuckles sprinkled in.

The basic setup for Rebel Belle is this: Harper is a teenager who sort of accidentally gained magical powers as a Paladin, and a duty to protect “the Oracle.” The Oracle, as it happens, is her school nemesis, David, who had no idea he was an important mystical figure. Through the course of the first book Harper and David learn more about their respective roles, fall for each other, and save Cotillion from some magical folks who want to catch David and use his power to their advantage.

While Rebel Belle didn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, it did set up an interesting plot thread, so I’ve been looking forward to the follow-up book, Miss Mayhem. If you haven’t read the first book Miss Mayhem does an exceptional job of playing catch-up within the first few pages without being a total info-dump, but for readers familiar with the series there’s also a lot of action right off the bat, so it’s easy to get pulled right back into the story. I won’t say too much about what happens, but it involves Harper learning more about her Paladin responsibilities and struggling to balance her relationship with David with her need to protect him.

As with the first book, Harper is an engaging narrator with a fun, distinct voice. If you haven’t read the first book, you may not get as clear of a picture about her oracle/boyfriend, David. I was thankful to have background on him since his character felt more distant in this book compared to the first. It’s understandable that as David is learning more about his Oracle-ness he gets a bit closed off, but I certainly missed seeing more of his personality as it was established in Rebel Belle, and would have loved more of his and Harper’s back-and-forth, which was a highlight in the first book.

That aside, Miss Mayhem managed to hit the difficult balance of humor and peril and Hawkins’ style of writing is extremely readable, keeping the book interesting even in some of the slower plot moments. There’s a definite “middle book” vibe to Miss Mayhem, a feeling of simultaneously wrapping up loose ends and untying new ones. Harper is already familiar of her abilities, so there’s less of a sense of mystery, and the big climax is set up early in the book so it’s not surprising when it happens. On the other hand, we get to meet some pivotal new characters, see how David’s Oracle abilities are evolving, and get presented with new questions about who is really trustworthy in Harper’s new magical world.

Whether you start with Rebel Belle or skip straight to Miss Mayhem, I think this series is worth a read simply because Harper is such a great character. She’s not perfect by any means, but she’s smart and strong and still very relatable. It’s a type of character that is often attempted in YA, but is difficult to do well.  Hawkins does a fantastic job of really giving Harper dimension and making her both a worthy role model for younger readers and an admirable teenage voice for older readers. And, because Hawkins writes Harper with such an engaging perspective, it’s easy to root for her in any scenario, whether it’s battling magical beings or defending a baton costume.

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