HEX – Thomas Olde Heuvelt [Books – SPOILERS!]

hexAs indicated by the title of this post, this post will contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet read the book (and if you have, I would love your thoughts on this!) then I suggest getting a copy, reading it, then coming back.

FINAL SPOILER WARNING PUPPY!

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Glancing over reviews on Goodreads, this book seems to provoke a love/hate reaction. Some feel the book might have sexist tones, and an ‘obsession’ with certain aspects of the female form. But to me, the book was less sexist in itself, than portraying the attitudes of the townsfolk. Grim seems to take a very dim view of women. He goes out of his way to protect the town, to try to make things right, and has clear views of what is right and what is wrong – but he still obsesses over the appearance of women. Personally I don’t think that’s reflective of the author, but of the character. Grim might be good at his job, but clearly living in the same town, unable to leave for any extended period of time, and being forced to watch over the same people day in, day out, with actually very little power, has taken its toll on him. And he’s as dismissive of the men, too.

One argument is that there’s no ‘positive’ female characters, but I think Jocelyn is quite positive. And even if she weren’t, personally, I don’t see any particularly positive male characters, either. Jocelyn definitely comes out much better than Steve who, after Tyler’s death, is so obsessed with it he doesn’t really seem to care about Matt, and thinks bitterly about ‘her son’ still being alive.

Of course, one of the amazing things about books is that everyone takes away something different from different pieces of writing. The actions and thoughts of the characters can be seen as sexist and misogynistic, but I personally feel this was the characters, not the author, though without further works to read, it’s a hard judgement to make.

The book definitely carries a Pet Semetary vibe for me, and a complete Stephen King feel, from the strange small town where odd things happen, to the absolute humanity of the characters. They feel real, and they do things – good and bad – that make sense. They try to protect loved ones, and hurt when they fail.

It’s easy to see early on that Katherine isn’t the real evil in the town. She’s creepy, yes, but that feels like it’s because of the interference by the townsfolk. She’s creepy because they made her creepy. And in a trope any horror fan will recognise (*cough* Mama *cough*), at the end of the day she is a lost mother mourning her children, who ends up – not in the best way – replacing them. The attacks are her self-defence mechanism, and when the town becomes a nightmarish hell hole, it’s less because of Katherine and more mass hysteria.

Overall, if I haven’t made it clear already, Heuvelt has written something which has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. This is the first English translation of one of his novels, and I really hope it’s the first of many.

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Simon VS The Homo Sapien Agenda [Books]

simon vs.jpgI am, quite possibly, one of the last people to have read this. It’s one of the books I picked up thanks to the hype on Twitter, and honestly, when book Twitter hypes a book, I’ve learnt it’s well worth listening to them. Simon VS is a great example of that.

Simon VS is a coming of age story, focusing on Simon as he attends high school, works on the school play, and tires to navigate the confusing world of teenage friendships (I remember that well enough).

Along with this, Simon is keeping a secret from those closest to him – he’s gay, and in a sort-of-not-quite relationship with a mysterious stranger called Blue. They chat via e-mails, and through them, we see their relationship develop and deepen.

And, honestly, this book is so damn beautiful. I love a book that can make me laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, and this was…well, it had plenty of both. Simon is wonderfully, adorably awkward, not quite sure why the girls are annoyed at him, and making clumsy attempts to identify who Blue might be.

But on top of all that, he’s really doing his best. Not just trying, but doing. He misses his older sister, away at college (and not that I would tell him, but it does remind me of how much I missed my brother, many years ago) and the way that feeling is conveyed works well, not to mention the feeling of normality that returns when she comes home, the way they sink back into family traditions. (Side-note: the ‘traditions’ we had when we were all under one roof tended to be more along the lines of my brothers practising wrestling moves on me, and my mum screaming can’t we all bugger off again so there was peace and quiet)

There are so many lovely moments to this book, not to member a number of edge-of-your-seat ones.

**SPOILER WARNING**

(All spoiler warnings will be book-ended by puppies. By the way, this book is so lovely, part of it does feel like a puppy in book form)

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The book opens with Martin attempting to blackmail Simon. Martin has seen his e-mails to Blue, and wants Simon to put ‘a good word’ in with Abby for him. Later in the novel, Simon’s friends act a little strange around him, and thanks to his younger sister, Simon discovers a very revealing post has been put on the school’s Tumbler page. I knew what was coming. I almost ripped the book in two, as we get closer and closer to finding out what’s happened. And, really, it’s heart-breaking. Simon’s hand is forced, and although he knows his parents won’t kick him out or anything, he’s still pushed into telling them before he’s ready.

Some people might think Martin’s actions – or Leah’s, or Abby’s, or some of the other characters in the book – are overreactions. And yeah, they kind of are (especially Martin. What an arsehole). But, the thing is, that’s what teenagers do (sometimes! Not all of them, not all the time, but sometimes!), they over-react. And, hell, plenty of adults do too, don’t get me wrong. But I remember, as a teenager, getting so worked up over stuff that doesn’t really matter, but which, at the time, really does.

**END SPOILERS**

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It doesn’t mean those problems don’t matter. And that’s one of the things, I think, Becky Abertalli does amazingly well. She shows those things which, to adults, would seem small, but reflects them in a way that shows just how much it means to these teenagers.

None of the characters were unlikable because of the way they were written. Instead, Abertalli brilliantly guides you to conclusions about the characters, drawing you more into Simon’s head yet allowing us to make up our own minds about them. The teachers seem like they really do care for the students, Simon’s parents are supportive, and there are darker directions this book could have gone, but just didn’t. It all blends together really well, and feels so much like reading an actual high school student’s diary, it read almost like non-fiction. (In a really good way)

So, as you can tell, I absolutely loved this book, and will continue to make book-buying decisions based on Twitter. It’s enjoyable and wonderful and happy and uplifting and I almost cried when I put it down, after picking it up only two days before.

Road To Priesthood (Fiction)

I thought I’d try to post up short, flash fiction on here, hopefully regularly. One, writing it helps me play around with larger novels and stories I’m working on, and two, it’ll hopefully give anyone who reads this something a little entertaining to check out. If it, like this one, is part of a larger world then I’ll explain a bit about it at the end.

The road to being a priest was long and hard. He crouched on the floor before his master, nose touching the marble, and took a deep breath. Closed his eyes and steadied his breathing, focusing only on the calm that descended on him. It had taken him years to reach this point, years of hard work, memorising lines from holy books and learning the various names of the gods. Despite the fact that he would only be serving one, he had to know them all.

He looked up. His master nodded. Stepped back and asked him to recite the five key gods along with each of their roles. He did as he was asked, focusing only on the master himself and not daring to once look at the statues around them for them a guide.

His master smiled when he finished. Commanded him to stand. He straightened his back and stared at a point directly ahead. Still kept his body still as his master walked around him.

“The lands around you,” he said, voice low. “Name them.”

“Tarka and Sharn.”

“And their rulers?”

“King Fredrick and Queen Pine.”

“Excellent work, boy. Tell me, which gods do they worship?”

“The people of Tarka are likely to worship Nex and his pantheon. Those in Sharn tend to worship the wild gods.”

“And the desert?”

“Each tribe has their own gods.”

He paused, rubbed his chin. “The wife of Nex?”

“Lia.”

“Their children?”
“Darius, god of the sea. Lila, goddess of love. And the hero Rosh.”

“The leader of the wild gods.”

“Mayk.”

“And his companion.”

“Juliana.”

“The huntress.”

“Heycate.”

“Good. The wild god of the underworld.”

“Goddess,” he corrected. “Sep.”
“Excellent.” His master turned. Walked towards the door set in the back of the room. Letting out a deep breath, he followed, sweat tricking down the back of his neck at the thought of the next part of his trial.

Like his master, he was to become a priest of Karash, the brother of Nex and god of war. To offer council and perform rituals when required. Not that Tarka had been at war for decades, not since the peace had been established between the three kingdoms and the desert. No, his role was now a more decorative one, and he could not see war breaking out in his lifetime.

He was happy with this. As a child he had adored Karash, loved the stories of how the god had risen up and defeated his people’s enemies, loved the images of the strong man with the mighty sword and shield that would deflect anything.

Once he had begun his apprenticeship he had heard stories that went beyond the usual legends children grew up knowing. Stories of war and bloodshed, moments containing the complete and utter absence of hope as Karash descended on his enemies. He had vowed to serve the god, but he did not realise how much it would actually entail.

He walked through the open door and it swung shut behind him. This was the real test, where simple answers would not help him. This would be a test of how much he could handle of the sort of sacrifices that would be required of him. The efforts of reading omens in the organs of animals he had killed.

His master stood beside him. Together they walked further into the chamber, ready to complete his trial.

Like The Mountain’s Reach (which I spoke a little about here) this story is set in the bigger world of my fantasy novel. This one was just to get a better idea of the gods and their roles in the world, as well as looking briefly at how people actually become priests here. Hope you enjoyed it. It is unedited and brief, but feedback is always welcome.