Review: “HEX” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Allow me to celebrate October with everyone by reviewing a horror story that caught my attention a while ago. The author is a Dutch writer named Thomas Olde Heuvelt, who wrote “HEX” under a different title and changed the setting in order to translate better for us American bookworms. Hell, he even actually tweaked the ending to it. Having never read the Dutch version, I unfortunately can’t give you any comparisons to the original text. But does that leave much of an impact on someone who randomly reads it?

Maybe, but to be honest I have mixed feelings about “HEX” it’s far from bad, and I’m impressed at how much Huevelt does a fantastic job on suspense, horror and shock value in a book like this. However…there are some things that’ll really irk those who decide to read it.

So what’s “HEX” about? If you can guess from the trailer, the story revolves around the residents of a Hudson Valley small town called Black Spring, who are under the control of a curse made by a ghost named Katherine van Wyler, aka the Black Rock Witch. For three-hundred years, any human who is born or moved to Black Spring is bound to live in the town forever, the penalty being to horrific deaths brought by insanity. Katherine (described as an old woman with sewn mouth and eyes) also wanders the town to the chagrin of its citizens.

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To keep an eye on her and make sure outsiders don’t learn of the curse and/or Katherine, a small, local cleanup crew of ‘ghostbusters’ called HEX keeps a massive surveillance to dominate Black Spring with every camera on every corner. The teenagers are even given an app on phones to report sightings of the witch around the isolated town.

One teenager is Tyler Grant, who is part of a secret group of Black Spring adolescents that are covertly trying to break through the digital chains of their town and reveal the Katherine and her curse to the entire world. But their actions and goal may be hard. Especially since his father Steven Grant, the City Council, ultra-religious councilman Colton Mathers, and the HEX leader Robert Grim want to keep the peace between Katherine and the town at bay. However, these actions will soon lead to a crossroads that may end the curse one way or another. But will the residents of Black Spring survive their darkest hour? Or will the curse drag the town back to medieval madness?

Does the author love to confuse us by constantly going back and forth between Third Person Multiple and Third Person Omniscient?

Okay, I think it should be fair to talk about what most people dislike about the novel. It really starts off strong in the first two-thirds, but then goes down a path that people either find strange or downright awful. I can’t talk about it without giving away heavy plot spoilers but…okay, there are these certain scenes where a variety of characters you like and dislike do stupid sh*t, accompanied by imagery that many’d find disturbing and unnecessary. Granted the buildup to the climax is well-deserved and you don’t see it coming in a horror story, but it leads to an overall ending that’ll leave many scratching their heads.

Again, I can’t explain without either giving spoilers or having read the original ending in order to make sense, but “HEX”’s ending will make you wonder what you originally read.

However, then there’s the first two-thirds that everyone else and I find really well-written and imaginative. What makes this so much of an engaging novel is how Huevelt takes a relatively good idea and applies not just horror but comedy as well. In hindsight, the citizen’s actually treat Katherine like she’s a wandering feral dog, and even go so far as to have her be a sideshow attraction when she won’t hide from outsiders who come into town. That’s actually pretty funny. However, they do take the precautions of keeping the Witch and the curse so seriously that it feels unreal, so goofy yet you follow these characters because of how much they take it seriously.

Oh yeah, I should probably talk about the main characters. Like I said, “HEX” is inconsistent with who the main character is, but there is the Grant family, with Tyler, his closeted younger brother Matt, their parents Steven and Jocelyn and the dog named Fletcher. The family is a typical family with the perfect sons, the perfect father who works as a doctor and the perfect housewife. Steven and Jocelyn even have their favorite sons (which gets annoying after a bit). I can’t say much other than even though they placed good focus on Tyler, his interactions with his family and revealing the town secret, I felt like we could’ve learned more about them.

Aside from the Grants, we have Robert Grim, who is an easy-going man when it comes to life but is stern and determined to keep Black Spring alive. However, we see the determination to do what is right the more Black Spring drives itself back to the dark ages. He’s likeable in that he understands that teens like Tyler want to live outside of Black Spring, but they’ve got no choice. There are others such as Jayden Holst (who reminds me of that crazy kid from “Under the Dome”), his mother Griselda, who sees the witch Katherine as a literal goddess, and Colton Mathers (who for some reason reminds me of Ted Cruz XD).

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The design of the witch is also intriguing, having sewn eyes and mouth shut that leaves an image engrained in your mind. The backstory of Katherine herself is also just saddening, being seen as a witch and forced to choose between which children of her lived before hanging. Because of this, you see the tragedy behind the monster more than the monster.

The town itself gives off this idyllic façade, but goes so far in keeping the curse a secret. At first it seems black-and-white in the first quarter of “HEX”, but you begin to see the grey line the residents and the Council tread on the secrecy. For example, telling a soul outside of the town about its secrets means capital punishment or Doodletown (a bunker where they mentally torture anyone who tries to reveal Black Spring’s secret). Seeing this and the measures taken to keep Katherine secret, as well as outsiders from Black Spring, it feels like you’re watching characters from “The Crucible”. To slowly see the townsfolk strain with the curse after all this time, to see desperate people do drastic things, to see factions and cliques form in the name of God and Katherine, it’s very haunting And much like “The Crucible”, “HEX” is a story where the fear is not in the witch or the monster, how far the villagers will go until they become the monsters.

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But is that what people think of when they judge the cover? Do you find yourself in a ghost story or commentary on paranoia?

Aside from the ending and a few factors other have moaned and ranted about, I have only one personal problem with “HEX”. It has to do with the attitudes and slight offensive dialogue littered here and there throughout the story. There’s Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, and autism remarks made by some of the side characters that left me wondering why Huevelt wrote them in.

Phew. So yeah, “HEX” is another one of those novels that gives me extremely mixed feelings. This book is trying to be “Under the Dome”, “The Crucible”, “The Lottery”, a creepypasta, and “Lord of the Flies” with a good idea that I think had so much potential to work off of. Overall, I liked reading the book, but it is too cluttered with trying to have so many subgenres. It does take advantage of the plotline and gives us characters we want to see live through this hell, but I think Thomas Olde Huevelt could’ve tweaked it a bit more in order to make what could’ve been a really scary book. Had he rewritten the ending, given us more closure, and not given false advertising, “HEX” could probably be seen in a much better light by the other spectrum of readers left out.

If you want to read a horror-oriented novel that has creepy visuals, commentary on paranoia, and likeable characters you want to see make it out of Black Spring, this is a good book for you to read on Halloween. I can’t guarantee it’ll be the best horror story you’ve ever read, but the stuff that’s good is really good. Give it a glance, and be sure to have a wonderful time in the idyllic town of Black Springs!

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