Title: The Year of the Witching
By: Alexis Henderson
Published: July 21st, 2020
Genre: YA – Horror – Fantasy – Historical Fiction
Buy it: Book Depository
A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.
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“Good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. Good people are not complicit.”
There are so many factors that I adore about this book, but I cannot fail to mention that I feel kind of disappointed that I didn’t love it as much as I hoped, yet it’s a book with a very solid plot, well thought out and executed. Personally, I think that the characters lack a little more development, but this only from my point of view, and I think that the point that hindered my total enjoyment was the paced of the book, which is really slow and I struggled with it at times, which is a shame. I don’t want to be negative towards this book in my review because despite the obvious obstacles that I’ve had and that I mention, I think it is A VERY GOOD BOOK, and it makes me happy to see so many people enjoying it, I think it deserves all the love.
This book takes place in Bethel, a highly puritan and religious closed community, where the Prophet’s word is the law. Here we follow Immanuelle Moore, whom the other members of this society consider a blasphemy since she’s the product of her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race, which is considered high treason. Now Immanuella must live under strict rules following the Holy Protocol in order to fit in and show that she’s committed to her people. One day a mistake put her inside the Darkwood, the forbidden woods that surround the community, and there she meets the spirits of the witches murdered centuries ago by the first prophet, and they offer her a gift: the diary of her dead mother. Immanuel doesn’t understand how her mother had been able to create ties with these evil beings, but once she begins to discover the dark secrets that the Church and its history hides, she understands that things in Bethel must change, starting with herself.
I want to start by loving the plot because the idea really was wonderful to me and this type of story where there’s a small community isolated from the rest of the world that live under strict religious rules is always very interesting for me to explore. In addition, the author decided to give it that touch of terror that comes from what is called here “The Mother” who’s the representation of evil ( “The Father” being the good), and she has 4 witches who serve her, and these are the witches who now live as spirits in the woods surrounding the village or community, right? and all that I just loved! I love whatever it has to do with witches and I tend to get involved in the plot very easily when all these components come together, also I cannot fail to mention that it’s very atmospheric and creepy, a winning combination for me.
We have many moments of suspense, mystery, revelations, and also has graphic horror, I really liked how the author decided to give prominence and weight to each of these characteristics in the same way, letting the characters stand out through a kind of disturbing vibe, with a lot of tension. It’s the first time I read the author and it certainly will not be the last, I fell in love with the way she tells her stories and how committed she is to her plots, I liked the outcome in the same way as the development of the book, and although I saw it coming, that didn’t diminish my interest, I think it was handled very intelligently and I’m excited to see what the author will do next.
I think this is the author’s debut novel, which is impressive, in my opinion, if this is what she created in the beginning, I know that whatever she creates next will be even better and better, that’s really exciting! There’s a movie called “The Witch” and another called “The Village” both horror movies that I highly recommend, and personally, I would say that this book is a combination of both, so if you’ve already seen these movies and you liked them, you could enjoy this book as it shows something very similar in its own unique way. I already mentioned this, but it’s highly atmospheric and you know that I’m trash for that lol, I love the intensity with which Darkwood is described above all, but also the crudes of the descriptions of the outside of Bethel, I think it’s a very interesting face to see, that although it’s cruel and devastating, it gives a reality to the story.
Now, although I would like not to have anything negative to say, I want to talk to you a little about the points that I didn’t like that much about the book, and I think that the main one is the paced, it took me a long time to read it, I had been reading books with a very fast-paced this month and this stopped me quite a bit, which maybe is personal, you know? The fact that it’s slow, doesn’t mean that it’s bad in its content, in fact, as I already mentioned, I loved it, but I cannot let it pass that I’ve struggled a bit to finish it due to the density that you feel while reading it. I always try to be fair with my reviews, so as I can say that it’s a solid book in plot, I also want you to know that for me it was difficult to read and progresses quite slow. I can’t ignore when a book makes me feel like I have to push myself to read it, so I wanted to mention it so that you have it in mind before reading it, even so, I think that it’s worth giving it a chance because of its amazing plot.
I’d have liked to have a little more work on the characters, although I think they’re generally fine, I was looking for something more intense in each one of them, maybe that hint of something special that would make me feel closer and committed to their personal stories. I don’t want to spend a long time talking about each one here because there are so many, but luckily I was able to connect a little more with Immanuel, who’s our main character, as the story progressed, I understand each of her actions and there’s a marked growth in her, that I always appreciate very much in the main characters. I especially liked following the connection that she would have liked to have with her mother and the way in which they connect without being able to be together is really moving. Then I could mention the witches lol because I loved them, I like they’re this very creepy version of witches, they’re women with very beautiful bodies, but they have disturbing characteristics especially on their faces and some details that make them really shocking. Their names are Jael & Mercy, who are the lovers, Lilith who has a deer head, I think, something like that super creepy, and she’s the daughter of “The Mother” and the guardian of Darkwoods & finally we have Delilah who’s the water witch, she lives in a lake inside the forest. All these witches are so interesting to me. Then we have many secondary characters like, Ezra, which is the love interest, and I don’t know, I think there was nothing that really impacted me on him, I think this character lacked strength & Leah whom I want to mention because OMG, I felt so bad for her and for her sacrifices, I think she deserves the mention and she’s also a very sweet being.
There’s a lot of discussion about race and there’s a lot of racism going on, in this book the power is held by the prophets, and in the Bethel community, there are only white people, while black people live on the outskirts in much more precarious ways. So there’s a very heavy topic in the discussion about this, and I like that the main character is the daughter of both races since we see very closely what this means for her and how others see it within a community that’s extremely conservative and closed. In addition, there’s also a lot of abuse of power and denigration of women, here men can have many wives, which isn’t a bad thing if it’s consensual, right? but the prophet as such, being already a man of advanced age, chooses young girls to marry him and defines it as if they’re the chosen ones to carry his seed and all those quite disturbing things. I don’t judge the book or the author for touching on these types of topics, I think that as the plot progresses, very valid and interesting points are played, not to mention that it obviously evolves as we advance in the book, but I do want to mention it because I found them important for discussion and maybe it’s not something that you want to read about, or maybe it’s triggering for you, so you know that now and there will be no surprises.
I liked the ending, I not like shock about it, though, but I think it was appropriate & above all, I like that the book is standalone, I mean, that could change, I think without a doubt we could have more of this story, but personally, I think that we need more standalone in this type of genre, so it’s a nice touch.
I liked the book a lot, I think I’ll undoubtedly recommend it in the future, I hope you understand that even if it has the rating I’ve chosen for it, it doesn’t mean is bad, anything that’s 3 stars or more is good for me, so with this clarified, I would recommend it if you like to focus more on the plot than on the characters, if you like atmospheric and creepy books, this is perfect to read in winter, if you ask me, I would recommend it if you don’t mind the paced, I know that slow-paced books aren’t always something negative, if you like witches, like I do! & especially if you want to read an interesting story that combines discussions of real life, such as racism and the power of men over women, with a bit of dark magic, curses, and sacrifices to gods. It’s an intense book, there are many tones and decent dialogues in it, so I hope you decide to check out.