Rachel Hawkin’s Rebel Belle is a young adult fantasy novel, and the first in its series. Harper Jane Price is the main character, an overachieving Southern girl who accidentally acquires magical Paladin fighting skills. With these skills comes the obligation to protect David Stark, a classmate she’s been feuding with for years. David is coming into his own powers as an Oracle, and the two have to fend off an ancient order that’s targeting him, while trying to live normal lives.
I loved Harper. She’s fun, confident, and driven. She has goals and hobbies and a life outside of her romantic interests. One driving motivation in her life is the death of her older sister, who was killed in a drunk-driving accident a few years before the start of the story. Her sister was perfect and popular and died after one bad decision, and Harper struggles with living up to her memory, while trying to not make the same mistakes.
Rebel Belle does something I’d kill for more books to do: reversing the sword-and-sorcery gender roles! That was what drew me to this book – the girl is the warrior and protector and the boy is the non-combatant. I love the juxtaposition of Harper’s super-girly persona with the super-strength, killing-things-with-swords she’s fallen into. David, too, is thrust into a feminine role – he’s an Oracle, traditionally female, and only the second known guy to ever be born one. (Spoiler! The genderswapped fighter/mage roles draw in other characters at the end of the book.)
I was excited to find that Harper is an unabashedly feminine character. Quite a few YA female leads are Different and Not Like All Those Other Girls, and turn up their noses at makeup and clothes and those who enjoy them. As a teen I definitely considered myself Not Like Other Girls, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how limiting and destructive that attitude can be. (Also I love makeup and fashion, now. Teen me would be appalled!)
The relationships between characters are a major strength of the book. Harper and her boyfriend Ryan aren’t over-romanticized and (spoiler!) even have an amicable break-up when they realize things aren’t working out. David and Harper spark against each other, and have a believable rivalry-turned-romance; I’m normally not a fan of romance, but I enjoyed their interactions. Harper makes time for her best friend, Bee, even when her life is overrun by magical chaos.
It’s definitely a book aimed at a young audience and the narration is light and uncomplicated. It’s first person from Harper’s POV, and some may consider her voice gimmicky or annoying. She has a running gag where she refuses to swear (as it’s unladylike), and censors swear words said by others in the narration. I found it amusing, but I can see where others might not.
It’s the first in a series and the ending is setting up for books to come, so some readers may dislike the lack of closure. I happened to pick it up at the same time as the sequel (Miss Mayhem), so this was no problem for me. I had a great time reading Rebel Belle, and will happily recommend it to others.