Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

I’m always looking for something new to read. I tend to read fantasy in the summer months, but I always reach for horror in autumn and winter. I first discovered Hex on Goodreads, and picked it up in Waterstones almost immediately.

What was it about Hex that drew my attention? I was interested in Hex not only because the reviews promised a chilling read with several sleepless nights, but also because its premise was something I had not encountered before.

Hex brings the reader to Black Spring, a modern day town that has been quarantined due to a centuries old curse that is restricted to the town. The Black Rock Witch has forced the town into almost total isolation. Visits from the outside world are restricted and controlled, social media is prohibited and the inhabitants of the town agree to constant surveillance. It’s a story of survival; the residents of Black Spring admirably coexist as peacefully as possible in an attempt to live a normal life whilst protecting themselves and the outside world from the Black Rock Witch.

The Black Rock Witch otherwise known as Katherine van Wyler, has haunted the town for approximately 350 years. Her mouth and eyes are sewn up, and she is bound in chains. She appears randomly around the town without warning, and the residents have grown so accustomed to her presence that they have started throwing blankets and tea towels over her to hide her from view. Her whereabouts are reported through an app that the residents use to keep track of their witch. Katherine herself maintains the isolation of the town, as any resident who leaves Black Spring for more than a few days will start to experience suicidal thoughts. The residents of the town are haunted by the same question: what will happen when her eyes open?

Inevitably, the younger residents of the town have started to find the restrictions of life in Black Spring stifling. Most of the teenagers were born in the town and have never known life on the outside, and are aware that with the restrictions in place they never will. The book opens with the Grant family. The parents, Jocelyn and Steve unknowingly moved to Black Spring years ago, and their children, Tyler and Matt, were born in Black Spring and have grown up knowing that life in Black Spring is a closeted and limited existence. Tyler in particular is finding his bonds especially chafing; he longs to experience the world and resents his stunted life in the town. He wants to live his life as a normal teenager, he wants to have the freedom to use social media and plan his future. His feelings are shared by the other teenagers in the town, and they begin testing the boundaries, with each small victory spurring them on to further acts of rebellion. It isn’t long before one of the teenagers, Jaydon Holst, a boy with a flair for cruelty, goes too far.

The first half the book focuses on the residents of the town attempting to have an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. Hex switches from character to character, showing the reader how the curse is affecting the residents differently. The middle of the book slows down considerably, but winds up the tension enough to keep you interested as the peace between Katherine and Black Spring is stretched to breaking point. It’s a bit of a timed bomb; you know that it is going off and you definitely know that it is going to make you jump when it does.

Hex is ultimately a story about human nature with themes of survival, guilt and progress. Black Spring has adjusted remarkably to Katherine’s curse, and with technological advancements has become adept at tracking her movements and controlling the curse. However, Hex is really interested in how the people themselves have grown in Black Spring. Are the residents still as quick to judge and condemn as they were in the seventeenth century? Have we grown enough to look beyond blame to resolve our problems? It all comes down to how far the people of Black Spring will go to protect their secret.

I knew I was going to enjoy Hex as soon as turned the first page. I did however have some minor problems with the characters. I would have liked fewer references to social media and modern terminology as they were a little too constant for my liking. I also would have liked to have seen some stronger female characters, as felt they were rather two dimensional, which was disappointing. The most interesting female character by far was Katherine. There’s also quite a lot of bizarre breast imagery in Hex that I felt could have been omitted. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hex.

In conclusion, Hex is disturbing, chilling and kept me frantically turning pages until the very end. I actually gave this to my mother to read when I had finished it, and she managed to read about a quarter of it before she gave it back to me because she wasn’t sleeping. It didn’t scare me as much as I expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s an original concept and executed well. It is reminiscent of King’s works (in particular it reminded me of Pet Sematary). I absolutely recommend this if you are looking for a dark winter read.

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