I'm not sure what this says about me, but I found the first third of this book absolutely hilarious. It starts out reminding me of Cabin in the Woods, taking this absolutely terrifying premise and making it so mundane it becomes funny. There is a scary witch lurking in the small town, and everyone just goes about their lives around her. They throw things over her when she appears in their den. They have to awkwardly step around her, as she whispers menacingly, as they adjust their thermostat. Because of course they do. You can't live in absolute terror 24/7 - life goes on.
Turning the supernatural into the mundane lends the story a humorous quality that few books manage to capture. And then it turns a corner. The laughs become nervous. And then hysterical. And before you know it you are gritting your teeth and gripping the book with white knuckles. I want to be clear here: this book eventually leaves the humor behind and dives into deep murky waters that will leave you feeling creeped out and uncomfortable. While there is a fair amount of supernatural flair to this horror story, the real terror comes from the psychological. The way people react to their circumstances, while funny in the beginning, becomes equally realistic in its ugliness as the book progresses. There is a feeling of hysteria and paranoia that Heuvelt captures masterfully.
I do feel like I need to make one disclaimer, however, before I recommend this book. It's got some weird things going on in regards to women. I'd like to think the way the witch, and her treatment, are portrayed is fully intentional. The era of the witch, and the misogyny that surrounds her, seems to come from a place of awareness. The fact that the author focuses in a lot of breasts also feels like a motif or theme, but again it's hard to be sure. It's difficult to judge in large part because the female side characters are very unflatteringly portrayed, and usually just described by their physical attributes. The two female main characters are no better off, one being a cookie cutter mom figure and the other being portrayed as fairly grotesque and stupid. Again, hard to say. So if you read books with a feminist lens you may find this book deeply troubling. You are warned.
All in all I thought HEX was a good classic horror story with some interesting ideas and twists. It kept my attention from start to finish, and the growing sense of utter wrongness and dread was masterfully executed. A good choice for Halloween, or to read in the dark as the wind howls outside.