Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are having a face-to-face on the national television: 2012 election for the White House is approaching and American people’s major concerns revolve around politics, economy, Obama care…
In Black Spring, a few miles down the road from New York, alongside the Hudson, Tyler Grant – son of Steve and Jocelyn – is making his way on YouTube as a vlogger. Not one of those who show off their uninteresting lives 24/7, though. He is a journalist-in-the-making, who wants to make the word a better place through his investigations and sharp, unapologetic statements filled with young-adult idealism.
However, Tyler has little interest toward the American election, since his main focus is “bringing Black Spring out of the Dark Ages” and showing that Katherine van Wyler, the Black Rock Witch with sewn-shut eyes and mouth who’s been haunting the town since the 17th century, cannot make the town folks live like barbarian any longer.
The young idealist must act in the dark, away from the indiscrete eyes of Black Spring committee and HEX – the security squad that follows ancient laws and applies corporal punishments for those who don’t obey to them, no matter how the rest of America is civilised and advanced.
Nonetheless, the dangers for Tyler Grant also come from some of his friends who took the concept of “opening the eyes of the town” way too far, deciding the set up a private, gruesome and cruel revenge against the Black Rock Witch.
The consequences of their actions will be deadly lethal not just for them, but for the entire citizenry of Black Spring.
HEX (2016) is the brilliant English debut of Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt, who wrote a ‘primitive version’ of the book back in 2013, for the Dutch audience.
His new version of the story, set in the United States – within a very different society – perfectly captures the American spirit in its bright spots and shadows.
This book succeeds on many levels, primarily in terms of character development. HEX tells the story of an entire community, giving all the main characters compelling motivations and strong personalities. When you read the book, you feel part of Black Spring and there’s nothing more refreshing than being dragged and immersed into a story like this.
Black Spring is, itself, a major character and massive source of horror. Although Katherine is a constant, dreadful presence in the book – the Judgment Day will come when she’ll open her eyes, rumours in town say – the citizens are catalyst of terror and hideous actions.
Thus, the story is interesting because, besides Heuvelt’s enormous writing skills, everything is blurry and the boundaries of good and evil merge often, as it happens in human nature.
In perfect Stephen King’s style, the author utilises a paranormal entity as Katherine to describe the every-day-horror that lies underneath the surface of modern societies.
That’s the most striking part of the story and moral of HEX, in my opinion. This book enhances the consequences of fear and mass hysteria: so that Katherine could as well be a symbol for everything that scares a community to the point it loses humanity and brotherhood values.
Katherine is the object of a propaganda that turns civilised people in bloodthirsty barbarians who are apt to flog teenagers who disobeyed anachronistic codes and offer human sacrifices.
As per issues with the novel, I believe there’s one storyline which did not need to be there. The Delarosa are a recently married couple who move to Black Spring and witness the appearance of Katherine: they are utilised by the author as a device to carry the story along and insert a long expository dialogue which gives the witch a backstory that could have been provided in a much subtler way throughout the pages.
Yet, HEX being a horror novel, the scary beats – those that would be translated to jump-scares in a film – are procrastinated by the insertion of descriptive moments that only make the tension shy away.
Also, the ending (the last few pages) is quite confusing and left open to interpretation. Although I don’t usually despise this technique and the message is still delivered clearly, many storylines are left hanging and that may cause a bit of disappointment.
Nevertheless, HEX is one of the best horror/mystery novels I have read in years. Suitable for any kind of reader (+16, I’d say), Heuvelt’s book is a breath of fresh air for the genre and I’m looking forward to reading his next work.
Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt