Hex Life is a horror anthology from publisher Titan Books. The stories primarily focus on witches and they can be downright wicked, evil and cunning. Hex Life features work from Ania Ahlborn, Kelley Armstrong, Amber Benson, Chesya Burke, Rachel Caine, Kristin Dearborn, Rachel Autumn Deering, Tananarive Due, Theodora Goss, Kat Howard, Alma Katsu, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Sarah Langan, Helen Marshall, Jennifer McMahon, Hillary Monahan, Mary SanGiovanni, Angela Slatter. The anthology is also edited by Rachel Autumn Deering and Christopher Golden.
The best part about Hex Life is that the anthology gives a lot of depth to the women within each story. Historically speaking, witch-burning was an incredibly sexist practice and an easy way to get an unwanted woman out of your life. This anthology seeks to empower women who have been labeled witches and it does so well. Hex Life opens strong with “An Invitation to a Burning” by Kat Howard. In the short story, Merrinvale is a place that needs witches, as every town does. However, despite this, they still burn their witches. Throughout history, women have been forced to hide they are witches or at least hide the made-up tell-tale signs, but here, Sage revels in who she is.
Hex Life also features a few stories that are much more uncomfortable than empowering. Kristin Dearborn’s “The Dancer” follows a teenage girl, Ani, who is a ballerina. In addition to suffering from an eating disorder, Ani is riddled with stress, dangerously heavy periods, and stuck within a dangerous home life. “The Dancer” is an incredibly somber story that touches on themes of child abuse and anorexia. And as much as I loved it, I wish it was longer. Sometimes it is hard to create an empathetic narrative with a short page count and that is something that some of the stories within Hex Lives struggle with. That being said, these stories are still impactful and haunting.
Outside of just witches, Hex Life also features spirits that even in the afterlife fight for justice. Later in the anthology, Chesya Burke’s excellent story, “Haint Me Too” follows a young Black girl and her family forty years after slavery. After sneaking out one night she runs into a strange spirit, the haint. Haint means ghost in Gullahbut the history behind it is more complicated than that. The word’s southern roots specify it to mean a type of ghost or evil spirit from the Carolina coast however they can be found in ghost stories all-over the south. The inclusion of Burke’s story is important since so often Black women are not mentioned in media about the witch burnings despite the fact, “Tituba, an enslaved woman who was the first to be accused of witchcraft in Salem.”
Hex Life is a progressive anthology that features stories by women and for women. The horror genre was pioneered by women and continues to be. This anthology only adds to that tradition. The book is a must-read for horror fans as well as anyone interested in darker young adult literature. If you are looking for a spooky read to cuddle up with on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters are all in bed, I highly recommend Hex Life.
Hex Life is available now wherever books are sold.