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Kallie & Matt's Side By Side Review of HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Kallie's Review:

The town of Black Springs is exactly the kind of town you would want to move to in order to get away from city life. It’s surrounded by beautiful forests and has that wholesome small-town feel. Everyone knows everyone, even the town witch. Yep, the small town has a town witch, a curse and a secret. The elders have decided to basically quarantine the town from the outside world and, using high tech methods, keep their secret.

The youths of Black Springs want out. They want to do away with hundreds of years of town traditions to bring in a new era of Black Springs. They don’t understand, however, that change brings chaos. And chaos will lead to death. The whole concept of this book was unique and fresh. A high tech take on tracking a supernatural being. I loved that the town was in on everything. I thought Hex was completely original and fun. The writing is fine. I’m not sure if it’s because maybe it was translated from Dutch or what, but there were parts of this book where the tone seemed to not fit with the rest of the book. There were scenes that were very dark and unsettling and plopped right in the middle were these really light and airy descriptions. They just didn’t fit for me. Again, maybe that’s just a translation thing.

I really liked the way that the characters were written. I grew up in a small town and I could connect the characters in this book to the standard small-town personalities I grew up around. I also thought that the author captured certain emotions really well, specifically grief. The way that these characters grieved over the loss of a loved one felt so real. It was chilling. Their relationships with one another were beautifully written. Whether it was a parent and child, a husband and wife, or a friend to a friend, all of the characters and their reactions felt genuine and true.

The middle of the book got really slow for me. I thought a lot of it could be cut or shortened. I wanted to DNF this book at that slow part because it was just not holding my attention. But I had heard about the ending of this book and I knew I needed to hold out and finish it. When I finished part one and I was ANGRY. I wasn’t ready for what happened there and after I let my anger settle, I was really sad about those events. Part two is really not that long at all, but it feels like a completely different book. It feels like the author just dived off the deep end into a huge amount of folk horror and I loved it. It was so nice to have something to pull me back into the story after the middle that was putting me to sleep. I have heard mixed reviews about the ending because of how different it is from the rest of the book, but I really liked it. 

Overall, this book is getting 3 stars from me. The ending was just not enough to make up for how dull the middle of the book was. While I enjoyed the characters and the concept, the different tones of the writing really were off-putting. Am I mad that I read this book? No, the ending made it worth it. Would I read it again? Absolutely not, I don’t want to put myself through that middle section again. I would recommend this book to lovers of folk horror who want a fresh take on small-town horror. 

Matt's Review:

The citizens of Black Spring are hostages. A few hundred years ago, Katherine was tortured and executed for being a witch. Despite being dead, Katherine haunts the town of Black Spring. When she didn't die, the residents sewed her eyes and mouth shut to limit her powers. Katherine shows up in the town square, in people's homes, and wherever else she wants. She's blind, show she often bumps into things if she doesn't know they're there, but for the most part, she's just a part of the backdrop of the town. You know, aside from standing over people when they sleep at night. The townsfolk mostly ignore her; she's just a witch doing witch things. The town has an elaborate surveillance system that keeps tabs on Katherine as she pops in and out of populated areas of the city. They may seem aloof about a 100s of years old witch living with them, but they don't have a choice. The town is cursed so that people that live there cannot leave for long periods without having the overwhelming urge to kill themselves. When new people move into town, they become subject to the curse and are trapped. There are a few fun scenes where the town is trying to scare off a family that is considering buying a house in Black Spring. Despite being trapped, the citizens mostly live their lives and try not to bother Katherine. As long as no one cuts open her eyes and mouth, she's powerless to do much to them. So you know that's gonna happen.

I have competing thoughts about this book. In so many ways, I loved it. It is a wholly original take on a witch story. The ending is straight-up bloody bananas full of horror and genuine terror. Katherine van Wyler is an excellent character with a rich backstory about whom I wanted to know more. The concept is inventive, and I was caught off guard several times while reading Hex when the story went a direction I didn't anticipate.

I didn't like everything. I had a lot of issues with Hex. Some of those problems are the result of translation, as Hex was initially written in Dutch. Many of the interactions between characters did not feel true to life. There were lines of dialogue that made me cringe, but the other characters don't acknowledge. I've been told that some of these lines were Dutch colloquialisms that don't line up in English. The middle of the book was also painfully slow in getting to the inevitable chaos. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, once the chaos begins, it is gloriously weird, gory, and scary. 

Finally, I have to share the oddest reason that I couldn't get fully invested in Hex. I listened to the audiobook version on Audible. In this book, there is a character named Steve and a character named Tyler. Anytime those characters were in the same scene, the narrator often said, "Steve and Tyler," only he said the and pretty quickly so that I kept hearing, "Steven Tyler." Every time this happened, EVERY TIME, I imagined the lead singer of Aerosmith as a character. It really broke my immersion in the story.

I liked Hex, but I liked it less than I thought I would. I give Hex 3 stars due to my Steven Tyler problem and also the translation issues, and the extremely slow middle of the book. I recommend it for its hugely originally concept and its batshit crazy ending.

Matt is a middle school math teacher. He's originally from Kentucky but currently lives in Arkansas with his beautiful wife and 2-year-old son. In addition to reading dark fiction, he also enjoys board games and Disney World.

Instagram: @teamredmon
Twitter: @teamredmonreads


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