I Put a Spell on You: A Review of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
So, now that we’re two days into 2020 who has already given up on his, her or their New Year Resolution? Who didn’t even make a resolution?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to judge you for not keeping your resolution. We’re not here to talk about resolutions, we’re here to talk about books! And today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite contemporary horror novels: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.
Before I get started on the actual review, I do need to mention a few triggers in this book. If you are triggered by sexual violence, violence towards animals, women, and/or children, abuse, and/or self harm please read this review and/or novel at your own risk.
For those of you who are not familiar with this novel, the English translation of Hex is about the town of Black Spring, New York and the 17th century witch known as Katherine van Wyler that roams the town. In 1664, Katherine van Wyler was sentenced to death under charges of witchcraft after she brought one of her children back from the dead. Along with being sentenced to death, she had her eyes and mouth sewn shut to prevent her from casting any spell on the town in death. But in the 21st century, she still haunts the town with both her presence and the curse she inflicted upon the land.
This curse that Katherine put on the town prevents any resident from leaving for long periods of time. Those who attempt to move, or even just leave for a long vacation, end up with Katherine putting suicidal thoughts into their heads. Should they not return to Black Spring in time, they will die. And should the residents of Black Spring remove the stitches from Katherine’s eyes and mouth, the curse would just get worse as there is not telling what she might be able to do with full reign of her powers.
Our main characters, outside of Katherine, are the Grant family consisting of Steven, Jocelyn, and their two sons Tyler and Matt. Aside from the Grant family, there is Robert Grim who works in the city’s HEX department which is devoted to tracking Katherine’s location throughout town via the HEX app.
It’s Tyler who is most vocal of how fed up he is with the way the town is run. For generations and generations, the residents of Black Spring have used elaborate systems, ideas, and lies to prevent the rest of the world from finding out about Katherine, and from outsiders moving into the town.
With a group of his friends, Tyler sets out the expose the truth about Katherine and Black Spring to the world. Despite the constant surveillance through town, a la Big Brother style, Tyler and his friends begin filming and uploading videos of experiments they preform on Katherine to a secret website no one else in town knows of.
Should these children be caught, they risk the town’s form of capital punishment: being sent to a bunker known as Doodletown where people who attempt to reveal the secret of Black Spring are mentally tortured. Honestly, you shouldn't have any hope for the characters when reading this one.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt masterfully creates a haunting atmosphere, and not because of Katherine. The townspeople are the true horror in the novel. It was the townspeople who first killed and tortured Katherine in the 17th century, and it is the townspeople now that continue to torture her in death. The characters in this novel continuously strain under this curse, and the desperate, drastic things that these people do in the name of the greater good are absolutely insane. Hex is much like Frankenstein or The Crucible in the sense of the story not being a tale of a witch or monster, but the true story being who is really a man and who is truly a monster.
I love the humor in this book. The first third of the book is fairly lighthearted; which is odd considering the heaviness of this book. But the way the experiments that the young boys preform on Katherine are written are just hilarious to me. Heuvelt writes these experiments as Tyler would write them on his website, and they come across as these funny, almost satirical, blog posts.
At one point, one of Tyler’s friends “sacrifices” a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses for a Katherine experiment. The goal is to find out what happens to objects that do not belong to Katherine when she disappears into thin air. Spoiler alert, the glasses don’t make it; they end up melting. So when Tyler is writing about this experiment for the website, his friend makes sure that Tyler writes in a note to the government asking to be reimbursed for the Ray-Bans. I just love the light sprinkling of humor like that throughout the book.
That humor is really highlighted with the way the townspeople treat Katherine. She’s supposed to be the town’s Big Bad Wolf, and yet she’s more or less an annoyance at most; at least in the beginning of the novel. The first time readers meet her, the Grant family literally throws a towel over her head to prevent looking at her during dinner.
I also really appreciate the bleak ending of the novel. So many books have that happy ending where everything is perfect, the evil has been stopped, but this one doesn’t. Like I said earlier in this post, you should go into this book with no hope for the characters in the end. Without going into any detail, the town destroys itself. Our heroes don’t win. Katherine, our "villain," has won.
I probably should have mentioned earlier that Hex was originally published in Dutch back in 2013. It did not take place in New York state, and the ending was also completely different. When the book was being translated into English for the 2016 release, Heuvelt changed the setting and ending to better fit with the American audience. I wish I knew Dutch because I would love to read the original ending.
Full disclosure, while I love the bleakness of the ending, I’m not a huge fan of how exactly everything ended. It’s the biggest moment of the book; throughout the course of hundreds of pages you’re just sitting there, imagining what Katherine might be able to do to everyone in Black Spring with her full powers. And when she finally is able to exact her revenge, I just felt left down. I felt that so much more could have happened in the end. There could have been so much more than just the mass chaos that ensues. Which I think is part of the reason I want to read the Dutch ending so bad.
Aside from the ending, my other main issue with the book is some of the dialogue. Quite a few times, there will be side characters of little importance who are in a scene and make problematic remarks. There’s sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic remarks made throughout the novel. There is one side character, one of the town officials who is an offended, Christian stereotype, that would make these types of comments fairly often when he was in a scene. It makes sense for him to say these things given his archetype, but other times these comments come out of nowhere. I question why they were added into the dialogue in the first place when they don't add anything to the story at hand.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoy this book. I’ve recommended it to so many horror fans who have also enjoyed it immensely. But I recognize that this book is not for everyone given some of the subject matter.
At the moment, I am anxiously looking forward to Heuvelt’s newest book, Echo, to be released in English, but for right now I'll just reread Hex again and again. I cannot wait to see what else this new horror master comes up with.