Book of the Year 2016 (see all)
Over the years, I have read stories about haunted houses and cursed people, but it is very rare that I have read a book about a cursed town and a curse is exactly what the town of Black Spring has. For over 350 years the people of Black Spring have been hiding a dark secret from the world, is it time for that secret to be revealed?
Hex pulls you into its story quite serenely, whilst adding chills to the proceedings as the book slowly reveals the unfortunate events that resulted in the death of Katherine van Wyler, accused of witchcraft and put to death because of it. Katherine cursed the residents of Black Spring in a number of ways, one being that she wanders through the town to her own schedule and can appear in people's homes. She is not an apparition, rather as solid as a human being. Katherine's appearance is haunting, with her eyes and mouth sewn closed to prevent greater devastation of madness and death.
The book is set in the present day, which means that not only does the town have to keep Katherine hidden from outsiders, they also need to enforce the rules that keep the town safe. If we thought that we lived in a surveillance state in the UK, reading Hex has shown me that it has nothing on Black Spring, with 24/7 surveillance from cameras and the people who live there, which keeps an eye on where Katherine wanders, as well as keeping the citizens in check. This team monitors the town's computer use and deals with troublemakers that try and expose the town. There is also an app that people use to report sightings of Katherine. With all of these safety measures in place the town has led itself into a false sense of security.
The book has a number of prominent characters, but we are first introduced to the Grant family and most of the events that happen in the book are instigated by them. Steve and Jocelyn moved to Black Spring years ago, never knowing that they would never be able to move to another town again. They have had to make some tough choices as to whether to have children or not, knowing that they are effectively stunting the choices their children will be able to take. Their children Tyler and Matt seem to be well adjusted, but Tyler is now at an age where he is thinking about his future, he is still young and idealistic enough to believe that the curse can be broken so that he can lead a normal life. There are strong themes throughout Hex regarding pushing boundaries, rebellion, being an individual rather than part of the crowd. This is seen time and again with the members of the Grant family.
The supernatural elements in this novel are haunting, the scares and horrors are unexpected, but the underlying theme for me is the evil hidden within humanity. Katherine’s backstory is tragic and her curse is bound in revenge, but is she in control of this or does the curse go further into the town’s psyche? The book is split into two parts, the first part builds on the suspense slowly giving us information on how the town and the curse works. We get to meet a number of seemingly ordinary folk, that hide and protect one another's secrets in the name of keeping Black Spring safe. Part two, on the other hand, is not a complete departure of what came before but has a far larger emotional impact especially once the set-up pays off. The second part of the book is especially hard-hitting and adrenaline packed when it shows the full depravity of mob rule and outrage, where there are always people looking to blame someone else for the bad things that are happening, but will always act first and hope that there will be answers later.
I do not believe that there has been anything lost in the translation by Nancy Forest-Flier from the Dutch original. Olde Heuvelt has written a compelling story rich in imagination and history which is undeniably haunting. Hex is truly absorbing with an easy style of writing that leads you into the world of Black Spring and keeps you locked into the horrifying events as they unfold.
Review by Michelle Herbert
Fuzz from Australia
An original and for the most part compelling read but lost me at the end. There seemed to be a suggestion at the end that the townsfolk were to blame for their own demise, as if to say that their fears and prejudices were unfounded and it was their paranoia, feeding on itself, that led to the final and absolute carnage. Hang on, didn’t the witch pose a very real threat to them? One that they were forced to live with for the rest of their lives because she wouldn’t let them leave? They were imprisoned and living in constant and real fear. Didn’t she kidnap two kids at the end and lead the whole town to the river to drown? Didn’t she compel a kid to kill the dog and make the son kill himself and almost his brother? This is supposed to be a horror book. Can’t stuff just be evil for the sake of it anymore? Why dilute her power, her evil, with a suggestion that the prisoners were also not very nice and therefore deserved to die. The mixed message at the end makes me wonder whether the author himself knew how he wanted to the book to end. Before the end I was ready to recommend this book to everyone I know. I have not recommended it to anyone. Some books are rubbish throughout. These don’t disappoint because you know what you’re in for, and if you read on you get what you deserve. This one showed so much promise and so is all the more disappointing and worthy of criticism thanks to its ill-conceived final act. Ultimately not with the effort.
Emily from Belgium
First of all, I read the book in the source language, so the names of the places and the characters are slightly different (in the original it all plays out in a Dutch town). Anyway, I doubt there is a lot of difference between the original and the translation aside from the names so I am dropping a review here. I read the book through the entire night, finishing at 6 am in the morning. Why? Because first of all I was too afraid to put the book down and go to sleep (a very livid imagination I'm afraid) and I desperately wanted to know how it ended. At first it was hard to get into the book, but that is because Thomas uses a lot of distinct Dutch phrases and words and I am Flemish. After a couple of chapters I got used to his style of writing and it kept growing to a climax. I found the end to be extremely satisfying, even though I also secretly want to know what happens after. All in all, if you like suspense and the paranormal, this book is for you.
6.7/10 from 3 reviews