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The Year of the Witching

by Alexis Henderson

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1239163,924 (3.76)None
"A young woman living in a rigid, repressive society discovers dark powers within herself, with terrifying and far-reaching consequences, 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. The daughter of an union with an outsider that cast her once-proud family into disgrace, Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the women in the settlement. But a chance mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still walking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the diary of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood. Fascinated by 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"--… (more)

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Slow burn horror at its best. The tension builds up page after page just right, and when it all starts to unravel, you just can’t help having the feeling of horrific dread right up until the end.
Immanuel is an outsider in Bethel. She is born in the Outskirts to an alleged witch and a heretic father. Both her parents having been burnt at the pure, she lives with her grandmother and the rest of her family.
All through her young life, she has felt different and somehow special, but can’t quite place her finger on what makes her special.
Bit by bit, she starts to uncover hidden truths and comes to discover the deep, raging evil of men, sending her on a dangerous journey to end the horrors that envelop them all.
It is a dark, coming of age story with a feminist twist that makes it so relevant these days. Absolutely loved it. ( )
  AleAleta | Aug 29, 2020 |
This is quite dark, and I think it would be perfect for fall/Halloween reading lists. I picked it up because I was intrigued by the "puritanical" society and because I've not read very many witch stories. My mother didn't allow me to engage with anything with witches in/on it when I was growing up, so you can see why this one might appeal to me as an adult. I grew up in a very conservative and religious household and would consider my childhood church fundamentalist. The way this society is set up with The Prophet being the ultra-revered religious and civic leader with total power over everyone in the town of Bethel, especially the women...I mean, I feel certain parts of this story deeply. In a lot of ways, I feel SEEN.

So anyway, this story definitely has a creep factor. The witches that live in the forbidden Darkwood forest are terrifying and incredibly powerful. There's this sense of dread that hangs over you while you're reading, and I found that both delicious and a little bit scary. Immanuelle is a great character that carries a lot of weight and baggage in this story, and I really had no idea how things would end up. There are these wonderful nods to Salem and other places of long ago with the pyres and fires, and the patriarchal cult-like society totally gave me the creeps. It reminded me a lot of The Scarlet Letter and M. Night Shyamalan's movie The Village.

One thing I particular that I loved is that there is 100% a historical feel to the story in terms of clothing and lack of amenities, but I sometimes think these religious/cult-type stories give me a contemporary vibe too. This is certainly the case here and I was excited to hear the author mention on a podcast interview that there may be more stories featuring Immanuelle and this world in the future.

Thanks to Ace Books for providing a digital copy of the book for my review via NetGalley! ( )
  Asheley | Aug 27, 2020 |
I know my words won't do justice to my feelings about this book. But all I have are words, so here's my attempt:

On the surface, this story is about a religious community's determination to remain pure in God's eyes, while keeping the dark forces of witchcraft banished to the dangerous woods surrounding them.

At its heart, this story is about the oppression of women, racism, power and control wielded by the elite, the fine line between a religion and a cult, and the way superstition and fear trigger aggression.

This is a beautifully written, complex, heartbreaking story that ultimately finds hope in rebellion.

If you reach deep and lay bare humanity's worst traits over the past few centuries, you'll see them reflected in this story. Most disturbing is how easily we can form parallels between this historical fiction community and our current society. Our demons, literal or figurative, only grow more powerful when we allow them to linger in the shadows. Maybe we can all learn something from Immanuelle.

*I received a review copy via NetGalley.* ( )
  Darcia | Aug 24, 2020 |
I have very mixed feelings about The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. On the one hand, there is a lot to love in this debut novel full of witchcraft, a pseudo-Puritanical society, and identity-finding. Ms. Henderson incorporates characters of color, LGBTQ+ relationships, feminist awakenings, and magic, all of which are story elements I adore. Yet, I tore through the novel only to feel disappointment at the story.

To me, the fault of The Year of the Witching lies in its ending. It is as if Katniss sat back and let Peeta make all the decisions about the resistance and Panem after they won their first Hunger Games. Katniss would never do that, and neither would Emmanuelle. In fact, most of the story’s conflict revolves around the requirement that she not only accept her power but utilize it. Except, after the big battle, she relinquishes all responsibility and decision-making. This one action contradicts the growth Emmanuelle shows for 90 percent of the novel and leaves a bitter aftertaste.

The Year of the Witching has other faults. I believe Ms. Henderson leaves room for a sequel, which feels unnecessary. While I sort of enjoyed the story, I didn’t love it or the characters enough to want more of it. Plus, I kept thinking the story would turn out like the movie The Village and was expecting THAT big reveal when Emmanuelle finally leaves the confines of her little settlement. I cannot pinpoint what exactly caused me to think this, but that feeling was there nonetheless.

Ultimately, I wanted to love The Year of the Witching a lot more than I did. To me, Ms. Henderson was 75 percent success with her debut story. Unfortunately, her choices for Emmanuelle’s actions at the end felt too contradictory to the character we got to know. As a result, my ending reaction is one of dislike, no matter how much I enjoyed the story to that point. ( )
  jmchshannon | Aug 19, 2020 |
Pros: interesting characters, quite scary and intense

Cons: uncomfortable race relations

Sixteen year old Immanuelle Moore is the daughter of a black man from the Outskirts, who burned on a pyre for having relations with her mother. Her mother was a white bride of the Prophet, who went mad after seeing her lover die. Raised as a good believer in the Holy Scriptures, she doesn’t understand why the Darkwood, home of the witches who once terrorized Bethel, calls to her so strongly. When she finally succumbs to that call, she unwittingly unleashes a series of curses on her home.

Immanuelle is a great protagonist, conflicted in her beliefs and desires. She’s strong willed and passionate. Her terror of the witches and determination to end the curses were palpable. I loved the slow burn romance with Ezra.

The world itself was terrifying for a liberal reader. Bethel is a closed community with very strict religious rules and no recourse against the hidden evils Immanuelle discovers taking place within the church: abuse of power - physical and sexual - and the subjugation of women.

The division between the villages of the ‘holy’ white congregation and the shanty towns on the Outskirts of the black former refugees was stark and left me feeling uncomfortable. I would have thought that with the conversion of the refugees, more intermingling would have occurred. The fact that Lilith, the head witch, was a black woman also left me feeling unsettled as it seems to continue this ‘black is evil, white is good’ theme, which is clearly undercut by the churches’ abuses on one hand but not really by anything on the other. Yes, Immanuelle fought against the witches, but as she was from the village and not the Outskirts it didn’t feel like she broke that aphorism. Nor does Vera, as it’s unclear if she ever practiced witchcraft or simply used protective sigils.

The horror elements are very terrifying. There’s a lot of blood and the story centres on events in womens’ lives that feature blood. The witches are evil and things get so grim I had to take breaks when reading this. Descriptions aren’t overly graphic, so though the imagery can be intense, it never feels gratuitous.

The writing is quite lyrical, which brings the world to life and really drives home the terror.

On the whole this is a fantastic story, provided you can handle a horror novel right now. ( )
  Strider66 | Jul 21, 2020 |
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"A young woman living in a rigid, repressive society discovers dark powers within herself, with terrifying and far-reaching consequences, 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. The daughter of an union with an outsider that cast her once-proud family into disgrace, Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the women in the settlement. But a chance mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still walking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the diary of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood. Fascinated by 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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