The Year of the Witching
- Author: Alexis Henderson
- Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal
- Publication Date: July 21, 2020
- Publisher: Ace
TRIGGER WARNING: animal sacrifice, polygamy, abuse, gore
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.
The world building in this book was amazing. Bethel is a strictly controlled, highly religious town that is dominated by the Prophet and his church, ruled by fear of what is different or non-conformist. Anyone that doesn’t fit in with the norm is at risk of being labeled a witch and being burned at the stake. The atmosphere feels repressive, with dark and ominous undertones. The religion they practice is a male-oriented, harsh, and cold religion with little room for deviation. The Darkwood and the spirits of its witches are always hovering on the edge of Bethel, with an eerie and almost hypnotic lure that most of the people of the town live in fear of. However, that’s not the only thing to be afraid of …
Immanuelle is a biracial girl who had the misfortune of being born in a place where people of color are treated poorly and relegated to a place called the Outskirts.
“Shared or spilled, it seemed that blood did not matter as much as appearance did. And so, no matter how many centuries passed, no matter what they rendered in service of Bethel’s betterment, it seemed the Outskirters would always be consigned to the fringes.”
Immanuelle is raised by her maternal family, and her mother’s actions have left the family shamed and nearly destitute. Immanuelle works hard to be dutiful, but she wears her stigma on her skin, and the people in her town are long on memory and short on tolerance. (Religious zealots, much?) Have no fear, this intolerance doesn’t just get applied towards Immanuelle, it extends to all the women in the area:
“‘Isn’t it strange how reading a book is a sin, but locking a girl in the stocks and leaving her to the dogs is another day of the Good Father’s work?’”
And while the women are blamed and punished harshly for their sins, the men who sin right alongside them generally escape judgment, especially if they belong to the Church:
“Officials of the Church rarely offered apologies, on account of the fact that they rarely sinned.”
Somehow, Immanuelle is one of the only people who is able to clearly see what is happening in Bethel clearly, and she is willing to take matters into her own hands to save the people she loves, people who wouldn’t life a finger to help her. This story is a scathing look at the toxicity associated with too much religious power, as well as one woman’s story of reclaiming her own power in a place where she has none, and standing up for what she believes to be right even when all the odds are stacked against her. It’s a story of magic and witchcraft and feminism and forgiveness and love. It’s amazing and you need to read it.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 15
Categories: Book Review