An excellent book to start off the spooky season with!
Content warning: self-harm, blood and gore, mentions of sexual abuse, death
Title: The Year of the Witching
Author: Alexis Henderson
Release date: July 21, 2020
Length: 368 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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 love how this played with and subverted so many relevant themes from our modern-day society—racism, sexism, patriarchy, and religious cohersion. It reminded me of historical fiction with dark fantasy elements but also the Salem witch trials and what we know about religious cult life.
Honestly, I expected the main character, Immanuelle, to have a righteous anger toward those who wronged her and while she does, it also jingles with indignation and how she is treated and what was done to her parents and her family. She seeks solace within herself and her one friend, Leah. While her family treats her well, others consider Immanuelle an outsider due to her darker skin tone. I thought she handled things so much better than I ever could have especially when she ventures into the Darkwoods and things come head-to-head.
I adored her growing friendship with Ezra, whom I thought I was initially going to hate because of who his family is. I loved how he seemed to reaffirm what Immanuelle thought and doesn’t make her feel bad for them despite the strict teachings in Bethel, a patriarchal society run by a Prophet. You can tell he wants to make real change but know it’s going to be difficult. Immanuelle is both pure and innocent in her intentions, and the anger she holds fuels her to become powerful.
I definitely enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for a Halloween read, I would definitely recommend this! I do think the ending is a bit open-ended though. I’d be eager to read another book in this world and to read more of what Henderson writes.