by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Translated by Nancy Forest-Flier;
Cover Artist: Getty Images
Review by Katie Carmien
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765378804
Date: 26 April 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The town of Black Springs, New York has beautiful landscapes, a close-knit community...and a curse. Once you have settled in the town, you can never leave, and the inhabitants are haunted by the Black Rock Witch. In life, Katherine was executed for witchcraft after seeing her child murdered before her eyes. In death, she is a terrifying specter, eyes and mouth sewn shut to contain her power. For fear of the Witch, the town has agreed to a total surveillance state. But, when local teenagers become fed up with the repressive laws of Black Springs and act rashly, the entire town spirals downwards into fear and violent mob rule, and the Black Rock Witch may be freed at last.
Heuvelt's writing is really, truly scary. He builds a tense atmosphere by weaving together the supernatural and the mundane in a way makes Hex feel realer, instead of just an average supernatural-horror jump-scare routine. People make bad jokes about Katherine, have an app for reporting sightings, and happily agree to brutal and inhumane punishments for those who step out of line. This is where Heuvelt's mastery of horror really shows. He blends supernatural and psychological horror in such a way that both have equal footing in the story and enhance each other.
Unfortunately, he's all over the map with his character development. Some, like Mr. Grim and Steve Grant, are complex and interesting--the one a misanthropic cynic who is nevertheless the most morally upright person on the village council; the other a good man who makes everything worse through his attempts to help. On the other hand, the rest, like Griselda, were pretty weakly written. Even though she was a viewpoint character, I never felt like I knew more about her than that she was a constant victim of the men around her and that she worshiped Katherine. Likewise, Mather never seemed like more than the standard zealot who thinks God wants him to save people through violence.
The prose is also sometimes a little clunky and the dialogue overly formal, but the novel was originally published in Dutch, so that fault lies with the translator. Apart from a fairly obvious info-dump and inconsistent use of the found footage element, the writing is good.
For those looking for a swift, scary read with original twists on horror tropes, Hex is perfect. However, those who like consistently strong character work may be disappointed.