Hex is a small but mighty book.
In just 100 pages, Jenni Fagan shows why she won the prestigious Scottish Author of the Year title in 2016, as well as being shortlisted for countless other literary prizes over the years.
The bright blue exterior belies the dark story held within, reflecting on one of the foulest periods in Scottish history – the North Berwick witch trials.
Set in a time when superstition was at its peak, the story delves into King James VI’s vicious attack on innocent women, throwing you straight into the fictionalised account of teenager Geillis Duncan’s life.
For context, Geillis is a young girl who was arrested, tortured and sentenced to execution for witchcraft in 1591. While the convicted teenager awaits her fate behind prison bars, she is visited by a futuristic presence who reveals that the future isn’t bright and that women still face prejudice many centuries later.
As the hours tick by, the girl’s desire to flee intensifies, as does the literary tension.
The book is, in fact, based on the true story of Duncan, a maid from Tranent who was accused of witchcraft by her employer, David Seton, for her ability to heal the sick. She was arrested, starved, assaulted and tortured to confession, where she then proceeded to give up the names of around 70 other ‘witches’, both men and women.
She was killed before a crowd that jostled for the best view.
The mere fact that this tale is based on real events gives the story a powerful, disturbing authenticity, while Fagan successfully brings to light the gruesome reality of female oppression in those dark times.
Her precise style keeps the pages turning at pace.
The book is part of Polygon Darkland Tales, a new series of fictional re-tellings of historical stories in which Fagan writes alongside other established novelists including Denise Mina and Alan Warner.
The series tackles the events of Scottish history and gives them a unique identity through a modern vision. A fascinating, terrifying read.
Hex, by Jenni Fagan, published by Polygon, £10.