Book Review: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

“Good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. Good people are not complicit.”

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 hadn’t originally planned on reading this book, but I kept hearing such good things and I liked the cover so I took the plunge. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t that this would wind up one of my favorite books of the year. I haven’t read a book this addictive in a long time.

I’ve seen this book shelved as both YA and adult, and I feel it comfortably fits both. It’s a great crossover read. While the writing does feel more YA, it’s definitely an older YA. This is further emphasized in Henderson’s exploration of feminist themes.

The Year of the Witching takes clear inspiration from books/plays like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crucible, but through the lens of a young woman of color (half Black). This too lends more gravitas to the feminist themes of Henderson’s debut. She gives a voice to those who often lack one in stories of Salem and Salem-like towns.

Immanuelle is a great protagonist not only for these reasons, but because of how determined and capable she is. The events don’t just happen to her— Immanuelle is the one who drives the story forward with her tenacity and heart.

Her romance with Ezra is also a bright spot, the two of them forming a connection as friends first. And Ezra stands out as a character as well, a critical thinker in a world of religious fundamentalism. He complements Immanuelle so well.

Moreover, the atmosphere of this novel is deliciously dark and tense. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a horror novel (more like horror lite), it still fills you with the fear of living in a puritanical society plagued by a witch’s curse. Henderson builds the tension really well and takes time on her reveals.

This is a perfect book to read in the current political climate. So much of what happens in Henderson’s novel mirrors the state of America today. The marginalized are fighting back and they have a choice between seeking revenge or making the world a better place. And if you aren’t standing by their side, you’re complicit in their oppression.

It wasn’t until after I finished this book that I found out Alexis Henderson is working on a sequel! I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I couldn’t be more excited. I feel like the next book will focus more on repairing and rebuilding society, further reflecting the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement and women’s rights activism.

If you’re looking for a spooky read, Alexis Henderson has got you covered. The Year of the Witching is a fast-paced, eerie story that will leave you breathless. But it’s also a fresh look at the witch trials and a biting commentary of bystanders. In every conceivable way, this incredible book will bewitch you.

Mixed race Black protagonist & Black side characters

Misogyny, racism/anti-Blackness, executions, statutory rape, allusions to domestic abuse, religious extremism, blood, & mild body horror

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Have you read The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson? What are your thoughts? Let’s discuss in the comments!

6 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

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