Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2016
Source: My own hard copy
|Trigger warnings: suicide, body horror, torture, public flogging, vomit, dog dying
In Black Spring, NY, having a 300-year-old witch named Katherine van Wyler whose eyes and mouth had been sewn shut show up in your living room is supposed to be treated as completely normal. This normality is partially achieved by the draconian Emergency Decree which prevents Black Spring residence from speaking to the lands outside. Some teenagers are fed up and want to document what interacting with the witch is like in the hopes of virality. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
I loved this book. Despite the upsetting moments and sickening imagery, I couldn’t stop reading. Mostly because I wanted to bite the witch’s finger of awful as fast as I could, but also the town’s descent into madness is something to behold. People are as terrifying as the witchcraft, especially with low tolerance for anything interfering with their way of life. It’s a fantastic mix of superstition and religious zealotry.
In terms of the characters, Heuvelt deftly assembled a cast of people who had lived in Black Spring their whole lives, newcomers, those who had already lived there, folks afraid of the witch, and those who worshiped her. It kept ebb and flow of the terrors into veritable river rapids, which made it so hard to get off that wild ride. I fell for the Grants, which reeks of tragedy (I do want to note: the dog dies in this one). I very much enjoyed how Katherine was a character in a way more reminiscent as the setting being a character, not a protagonist or antagonist being a character. She was mesmerizing and though her motives are singular, she certainly isn’t one dimensional.
In addition, an element I found unique to this horror was the use of technology. HEX was an organization founded adjacent to the police whose sole purpose is to watch the witch’s movements and make sure townsfolk did not touch her. There was fantastic internal logic as to why some things did and didn’t get out, but it didn’t seem to date the work aside from placing it firmly in contemporary upstate NY.
When the decaying, not quite alive, not quite dead witch corpse is the least scary part of a horror novel, you know you’re in a terrifying treat.