As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Originally published in the Netherlands, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s exceptional horror novel was the beneficiary of some wonderful translation work by Nancy Forest-Flier (along with a dash of new content), allowing English readers to lose sleep, as well.
To call the town of Black Spring, New York “insular” would be a gross understatement. In addition to being a close knit community, all the residents are trapped inside the town limits via an ancient curse.
Back in the late 1600s, a witch was brutally murdered by the townspeople. Since then, anyone who resides in Black Springs (or makes the tragic mistake of moving there) cannot leave without becoming suicidal.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the witch likes to show up around at semi-regular intervals. She doesn’t really do anything except look insanely creepy, but it can still totally mess up your evening if she happens to show up standing behind you at the dinner table. Also, if you try to interact with her–or remove the stitches sealing her eyes shut–then very, VERY bad things can happen.
Fortunately, the town has adapted to this strange way of live, even developing a HEX app to report and track witch sightings. They also have access to the internet…and kids who are on the internet all the time…which of course leads to them wanting to find a way to leave the town and/or defeat the witch for good–or at least get internet famous for how messed up their town is.
As you might imagine, this also leads to very, VERY bad things happening.
The town’s history, dynamic, and even its functionality is absolutely fascinating. Heuvelt does an great job laying out the rules and story behind the hex without every falling into the trap of massive exposition dumps. Instead we’re treated to some riveting flashbacks along with a present narrative populated by a fantastic group of characters. I’m not sure how Heuvelt pulls it off, but he’s somehow able to make a massive cast all have distinct personalities that are easy to keep track of.
He also writes authentically devious and frustrated teenagers. What starts as some mean-spirited videoed pranks against the witch methodically escalates into something much more dangerous. It never seems irrational from their viewpoint, but seen in the larger scope of the town–along with the men and women charged with keeping the curse from leaving the town premises–it’s a horrific worse case scenario.
The ending of the book is, uh…weird. Like, really freaking weird. Weird enough that I actually didn’t like it very much.
Don’t let that discourage you from reading this book, though.
Look, I’m one of those people who HATES it when a narrative’s subpar ending is justified by “the journey.” In this instance, however, the narrative is not only totally worth it, but also comes to a satisfying conclusion before everything goes all Willy Wonka Tunnel.
If you want a good old fashion creepy witch tale in a modern setting, you really can’t ask for much better than Hex.