How does a small town cope with day-to-day modern life when there’s an undead witch roaming around? Thomas Olde Heuvelt explores this idea in the 2016 English translation of his novel Hex.
The English language debut of the bestselling Dutch novel, Hex, from Thomas Olde Heuvelt–a Hugo and World Fantasy award nominated talent to watch
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.
This chilling novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in mainstream horror and dark fantasy.
Operating under a hex.
We meet Katherine right on page one. Our protagonist, Steve, does a double-take when it looks like the witch is run over by an antique Dutch barrel organ. In reality, it’s the townsfolk attempting to cover up her existence.
You know the old story, right? Town kills a witch, but she places them under a curse or a hex? Now they’re supposedly doomed for all eternity, but really it’s just something whispered about when things go wrong. After all, the witch is dead, right? Right?
Unlike the traditional story, Katherine is still around. She’s undead, but she hangs around Black Springs, teleporting wherever her whim takes her. To keep her from literally driving everyone insane with her whispering, her eyes and mouth have been sewn shut. To be fair, it’s just as much her curse as anyone else’s.
Often, she transports herself to places where she can’t help but be noticed. It’s every citizen’s duty to ensure her presence is kept secret from outsiders. It’s their burden to bear for the sins of their ancestors.
Two sides of the same coin
Horror has always been a difficult genre to pin down. It shares elements with Fantasy and Science fiction, but appeals to more visceral senses. It also includes comedy. There’s a very fine line between horror and humour, and a good writer will dance right on the edge of that line. Sometimes it’s a jaunty jig. Hex is such a book.
Zombie witch in your living room? Well, if you’ve been living with her presence for more than 10 years, it would be natural to call her “Gramma” and put a dishcloth over her head. You want your privacy, right?
Impromptu flogging in the town square? No problem. Just put up construction signs at the offramp from the highway. Oh…and don’t let your guests overstay their welcome. Really.
While the picturesque town encourages tourism, they discourage new residents. The longer you stay, the longer you have to stay.
New world monitoring. Old world punishment.
Everyone has a current cellular phone, and they use the local-only monitoring system like social media, tracking the witch as she moves from place to place.
Surveillance is taken very seriously in Black Springs.
It’s a really interesting look at how the old “village with a curse” trope is thrown into the twenty-first century. The security feed isn’t just to keep teenagers from leaving graffiti on the town monuments. Big Brother is indeed watching your online presence just in case you say something about Katherine. What kind of punishment should you face if you rebel against the greater good of the town? Will it be something modern, like simple incarceration or does the town need an example?
Do they just want blood?
After years of being cooped up, having to behave, to toe the line…anyone would need release. Black Springs is coiled like a spring, and when things get intense, the whole town reacts, often with dire consequences.
Read Hex with the lights on.
I knew going in that this would be a read-during-daytime book, so I started it when I was on vacation from work. Then things got busy and I had to put it down. Thankfully, I was able to pick it back up again recently and finish. It was well worth the wait!
Though I don’t recommend waiting. I mean, you do you, but you should probably just read the whole book without stopping halfway through.
While the story was originally written in a European setting, Heuvelt has transported the story quite well to New York State for the translation. The ambiance brings to mind stories of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen, dark woods and dangerous roads. 5/5 stitched eyelids!
TL;DR A small town in New York tries to cope with life in modern America...and a centuries-long hex by an undead Witch. Read this book!
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Published by Tor Books
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