The Year of the Witching
Author: Alexis Henderson
Publication: 21 July 2020
Genre: Adult Fiction – Dark Fantasy
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.
I’ll be honest, when I first started this one, I thought a bait and switch was pulled on me. I wanted all the witchiness, and it felt more like The Handmaid’s Tale BUT the witchiness definitely comes so shame on my for my impatience.
In the town of Bethel, the Prophet rules all and everyone must follow in line to keep themselves free of sin. Immanuelle Moore lives with her disgraced family on the edge of town. Immanuelle’s mother was expected to be the join the wives of the Prophet but she fell in love with a Black man from the outskirts. Immanuelle is the product of her mother’s sin; the bastard mixed race child from an illegal affair. Now Immanuelle must live with the shame, and the Moore family has been stripped of all of their titles and lands following her mother’s affair.
For the most part, Immanuelle tries to abide by the rules of the Prophet, but she finds herself drawn into the forbidden Darkwood with the Prophet’s son, Ezra. The Darkwood is rumored to be the home of witches and pagans. However, in the Darkwood, the witches give Immanuelle a journal that once belonged to her mother. Now Immanuelle is determined to learn about her history…even if it means bringing about the apocalypse.
So The Year of the Witching is very much a Puritan esque type fantasy. Women are seen and not heard. As soon as they’ve had their first menstrual cycle, the are ready to be married off to men that are sometimes 3x their age. I had so much anger and fury for these men…especially the Prophet. And while the themes of the patriarchal society are strong with this one, the author beautifully ties in discussions about racism, bigotry, and power dynamics.
I was really impressed with all of the characters. Not only were they all well developed but each of their storylines were integral to the plot. As someone who is also of a mixed race heritage with a white mother and Black father, I immediately gravitated towards Immanuelle. She is fierce, unyielding, determined, and loyal to her friends and loved ones. I also really loved both Ezra, the Prophet’s son, and Leah, Immanuelle’s best friend. Both of them showed how complicated religious cult life is and how they can still find a way to defy the confines that they were placed in.
Now when it comes to witches, I think this is where Henderson really had some fun. You definitely got the women and children who were wrongly accused of witchcraft and burned at the pyre for it. BUT, there are also the magical revenge seeking witches in this one that had a coven with a revenge list that no one wanted to be on. They were dark and downright frightening, and I loved every minute of it.
There is so much to this book that it’s really difficult to unpack it all in this review. Honestly, if you love religious cults, curses, revenge, and family secrets then pick up this book. It is deliciously dark and worth your time!
Thank you to Ace Books for my review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.