A brilliantly creepy and original horror story that is unfortunately let down by one or two aspects.
Author – Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Pages – 404
Hex was a book that actually managed to scare me, which is exactly what I was looking for and had been for a while. Hats off to Nick Borelli who recommended it based on a list of specific criteria!
Jump scares, vampires, ghosts, zombies, serial killers, sea monsters – nah. I’m not bothered. I can only get scared by stuff that is creepy and this book’s whole theming and antagonist is most certainly that!
The people of Black Spring live a relatively normal and peaceful life. Normal and peaceful except if they leave the town for too long, they end up killing themselves. Outsiders are not encouraged and those that decide to stay permanently are soon brought up to speed on their new harsh reality. The reason is the town’s witch, who walks around in broad daylight, tracked by CCTV and an app used by the townspeople to track her whereabouts. She is believed to have cursed the town and as such, you cannot move away once you’re there.
Now, there will be hundreds of questions running through your head – how can this even work in the modern age? How is it even possible to keep something like that a secret? Why can’t the army just blow her up?
Worry not – everything is explained, and it works well.
The Black Rock Witch is unnerving in her appearance – in 17th century attire with her eyes and mouth permanently sewn shut, and her hands bound by iron chains. It is said hearing her voice or being seen by her evil eye is fatal – but nobody really knows; she’s not done a lot in a few decades and the people of Black Spring have become accustomed to her presence – even viewing her as a comical entity, like a harmless grandmother. Some of the characters even almost affectionately refer to her as Grandma. You could spend the first chunk of the book believing the same, and wondering how this ‘witch’ could possibly be scary other than her creepy appearance.
Again, fear not (or do, eventually) – the suspense builds and I think the author does a fantastic job at building the information you know – the myths and rumours surrounding this Black Rock Witch, and the goings on in Black Spring. It’s really difficult to talk about parts I found especially unnerving seeing as almost everything after a certain point of the book would be a spoiler – even describing the characters and what they get up to.
Let’s just say there are rules in place that have to be adhered to, with harsh punishments a deterrent. Don’t touch the witch, don’t video her, don’t tell the outside world, don’t interact with or torment the Black Rock Witch in any way. It’s this what if and why not that propels the story, and all the while you have a very uneasy feeling about this centuries old witch, standing in family’s living rooms out of the blue, motionless. What does she want – is she evil? She certainly looks evil. The stories about her suggest she is – but are they just stories?
Anything to do with the mystery of the witch (incidentally named Katherine van Wyler – the book was apparently set in the Netherlands before its translation, so many of the characters have Dutch surnames) is really well done. With many of the other aspects, it was not as well done.
Unfortunately I had a hard time with the way female characters were described and treated by many of the male characters. There was a lot of needless sexual imagery and references, and some odd stuff that didn’t really need to be included. I get that it’s a horror story and horror is meant to disgust at times, and make you feel uncomfortable, but I don’t feel like this was the aim with some of the misogynistic stuff. It’s not incessant but there is enough that you know for a fact this story hasn’t been written by a woman, if you catch my drift – making fun of a female character for having a larger than normal forehead that somehow makes her unattractive? Mentioning this on two or three occasions? A teenage boy constantly shouting at his mother calling her a whore, just for the sake of being mean, to show us he isn’t the nicest kid.
In all honesty, all the teenage boys, who take up much of the story are little bastards in one way or another and are difficult to spend any time with because they’re just so whiny, annoying, and unlikable.
With better characters, it could have been a 5 star read because for me personally, it hit all the creepy factors and I actually found it really scary in many places – not just the supernatural and creepy elements, but the commentary on human nature and that humans can be just as dangerous and unpredictable as any being.
Unfortunately, the weirdness of the way women were described and depicted put this down a star, as well as the fact most of the characters were really annoying and unrelatable. Despite this, the horror elements really worked and it properly creeped me out; it was terrifying in places. As such I’d highly recommend this for horror fans with the same sort of scares and interest as me, so long as you’re ok with the parts that let the book down.
Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.
The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.