Book Review: The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Title: The Year of the Witching
Author: Alexis Henderson
Released: July 21. 2020 (Hardcover)
Series: Bethel
Rating: ★★★★☆

Description: A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethal, 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.

Please keep in mind that this review contains spoilers for the entire book. Read with caution. This is a warning that this book does contain mentions of sexual assault, especially sexual assault of a minor, gore, violence, themes of patriarchy, themes of corrupted organized religion. This review will also touch on those subjects as well. Please read at your own risk! If you click the “Read More”, it is under the assumption you either don’t care about spoilers or you’ve already read the book.

When I first picked up this book, I honestly didn’t know what to think. It was very much an impulse buy and it did take me a little longer than I’d like to admit to reading it because this book is a bit gorier than expected.

This book takes place in the course of a year from the point of view of a young girl named Immanuelle. One thing I did have trouble with initially was all the exposition that pretty much explained everything. But, once I got through the hump and started to meet certain characters, it became a lot more enjoyable. I really wished some of the side characters got a lot more book time, considering Immanuelle’s desperation to meet them and reconnect to that side of the family. Or at least, that part of Bethel.

And speaking of Bethel, I wish there was more of a focus on that town. I understand why Abram was more or less exiled from it but I also wished to understand a bit more why Immanuelle wanted to save them from the slaughter of the witches. Though, her wanting to save the young women from the predators that called themselves Prophets was a better touch than I expected because we did see a young woman get punished. We did see women being burned alive, and thankfully, it wasn’t in great detail. And we did have a character admit to the Prophet’s abuse which is very, maybe too close, to what happens in real life.

With all the trigger warnings in place (sexual assault, especially towards minors, gore, blood), I can understand why people wouldn’t want to get into this book right away. I honestly had trouble even coming up with a review; I really had to sit with myself for a bit to think about it because it’s very provocative and it really made me think about my own experiences with such abuse.

I really liked Ezra and while I think the relationship could’ve been established a bit better, I’m just weak to the ‘playboy with a heart of gold’ trope and even more so when he attempts to sacrifice himself multiple times. I wasn’t too surprised when they got together and I accept that I may be one of the few who is actually okay with it. I really just enjoyed their chemistry together and, again, I wished there was more of it shown and seen them interact before.

Another relationship that I wish that was elaborated on more was the relationship between Immanuelle and Martha. When Immanuelle said that she ‘wasn’t a good daughter[sic]’, I had to re-read that line because it just really seemed they didn’t get along because Immanuelle is paying for her mother’s sin – loving a black man from the Outskirts and engaging in witchcraft. I wish it was a bit deeper with that relationship so I could really understand the last conversation the two had before she snitched.

Regardless, the atmosphere can be laid on a little too thick at times but when it works, it works very well. The imagery used here was laid on thick on purpose as well as the foreboding feeling of doing something wrong always. Every step, every impure thought, every moment of being alive, as a woman and an outsider was wrong. However, I loved it because it really gave me a dark look at witches and the dark side of a puritanical society from someone as an outsider. A lot of the stories like these tend to have someone from the inside looking out – and then looking in. And even though I did say that I’d like a better look of Bethel, I still very much enjoy it.

There’s a lot of themes regarding the patriarchy and themes about organized religion. As someone who’s always been an outsider in a lot of regards, it is interesting to see a character who’s trying to keep her head down and, instead, devoting herself to the Father’s religion but she still feels, no, knows she’s an outsider.

But I love that it starts to click for her. I love that she starts to grow. I don’t ever expect the characters to have the consciousness we expect them to have to get the outcome we want so for her to start realizing these things and trying to start the process of stop the predatory behaviors and save Bethel from the witches. Another thing that I really liked was the fact that even though it was very tempting to join the dark coven, Lilith and her banished witches, but she didn’t. I really admired that and I really look forward to the sequel.

About Lily

A fujoshi who won't shut up about anime, manga, video games, BJDs, nendoroids, and anime conventions. She apparently can't stop writing either.

Posted on January 7, 2021, in ★★★★☆ – 4 Stars, Bethel, Book Reviews, Book Series and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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