AUTHOR: Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton
RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016
GENRE: Thriller, Paranormal Horror
PAGE COUNT: 384
Hex is terrifying for reasons you wouldn’t expect. Chronicling a small town’s descent into a hell of their own making, it brings humanity’s deeply buried darkness to the surface.
Present day Black Spring is under the curse of a 17th century witch with eyes and mouth sewn shut. To ward off Kathryn’s wrath, the town hides the haunting from outsiders, masquerading fear as folksy tradition. While most of the townspeople play their part for the greater good, a gang of teen fundamentalists takes a joke too far and incites Kathryn’s revenge. Soon Black Spring’s fragile façade of law and order is shattered forever.
Trigger warning: Hex contains graphic descriptions of suicide, sexual violence, child violence, and animal violence. However, I personally found these scenes less emotionally impacting than the insidious atmosphere of depression and fear. When reading, please be mindful of your emotional wellbeing.
Hex is told from multiple viewpoints, alternating between characters who play crucial roles in Black Spring’s downfall. The main character, Steve Grant, is a doctor who unwittingly condemned his family to the witch’s curse when they moved to Black Spring decades ago. His teenaged son, Tyler, was born here. Convinced that honesty is the best policy, Tyler and his school mates capture the witch’s behaviour on camera. Robert Grim is an officer of HEX, the orchestrators of Black Spring’s Big Brother-esque surveillance and incident management system. Grim sits in council alongside Griselda Holst, local widow and butcher, whose fear of the witch’s retribution has turned her into a fanatic.
For many newcomers in Black Spring, the irreversibility of their fate, its finally, was their first uncanny confrontation with their own morality. People desperately resisted the idea of their own death by looking away for as long as they could and avoiding the subject. But in Black Spring, they lived with death. They took her into their homes and hid her from the outside world – page 59
These diverse viewpoints work brilliantly to show different angles of the story. Although I don’t always enjoy split narratives, I loved how the changing perspectives reveal different insights and blindspots, giving me that urgent, creepy feeling of learning something another character doesn’t know. The structure gives the plot urgency.
It’s those smiling faces that get to him … They’re faces that have forgotten how to smile. They’re faces with too much skin on them, too many wrinkles for their years … They’re the faces of Black Spring. And when they try to smile, it looks like they’re screaming – page 53
Tyler is easily my favourite character. While Steve and Grim are fantastic anti-heroes, Tyler is as close as we get to an actual “good guy”. As the youngest main character, Tyler’s use of present day technology adds a super cool element to the story. He uses his online platforms as a YouTuber and blogger to vent his true thoughts. Unbeknownst to Steve, Tyler is secretly hoarding video evidence of the witch. With Black Spring’s laws against leaking the truth, the consequences could be fatal.
I’ll admit that at first, I didn’t love the writing style. In the first few chapters, I was distracted by lots of over-explaining. However, as the story heated up, I fell under its spell. I powered through it, intoxicated by its dizzying pace and ominous atmosphere.
When people start believing in omens, there’s a general breakdown in the way they think and live. What terrible thing awaits us? That’s the breeding ground where the fear of Katherine van Wyler took root – page 66
Put your expectations aside: Hex isn’t terrifying because the witch Kathryn is a unique and insidious evil… Hex is terrifying because it reveals the cruelty within people. The morality of Black Spring is on a very slippery slope. Delivering its people to a new Dark Age, Black Spring’s dogmatic legal system is centuries out of date. I struggled with a feeling of powerlessness and anger as the plot unfolded. Along the way, the townspeople lose their humanity, drip-fed by fear their entire lives. This is the truly terrifying part.
This is all it takes for people to plunge into insanity: one night alone with themselves and what they fear the most – page 352
Telling a dark and shocking story, Hex exposes the effects of fear on people – what it takes to crack them and make them forget their morality. Plundering all kinds of ethical grey areas, the main characters face unforgettable consequences. This is one heck of an edge-of-your-seat read.