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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
5
Book Name: The Year of the Witching
Author: Alexis Henderson
Publisher(s): Ace (US) Bantam Press (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Horror
Release Date: July 21, 2020 (US) July 23, 2020 (UK)

Speculative fiction is a term used when the common themes found in fantasy, science fiction and horror overlap while incorporating at least one of the many subgenres into the narrative. Add themes of race, sex, religion, family, and revenge, and you have a story that reflects any era in human history. The Year of the Witching—the debut novel by Alexis Henderson—tells the story of what happens when religion and revenge—and the supernatural—become a blended obsession.

Immanuelle Moore is the 17-year-old illegitimate granddaughter of Bethel’s midwife and carpenter, Martha and Abram Moore. Her mother, Miriam Elizabeth Moore, died shortly after her birth; and, her father was Daniel Lewis Ward, who was an Outskirter—exiles of the Blessed Father whose dark skin tone is believed to be a sign of their allegiance to the Dark Mother, the Father’s foe. Her parents’ love was passionate, yet forbidden, and circumstances, unknown to Immanuelle, led to the discovery of her parents’ affair, and her mother running away from home, only to return to give birth to her daughter. Immanuelle is Bethel’s reminder of the town’s prejudice and her family’s failures, and she is ostracized from almost all of the denizens from the other children and adolescents to the Prophet—Bethel’s leader—his family and his congregation.

One night, as Immanuelle is returning home from an errand, she stumbles into the Darkwood—the domain of the Dark Mother—where she meets a few witches who embody the Dark Mother’s powers. They give Immanuelle a book, which contains a lot of information about Bethel’s recent past and several warnings regarding an upcoming reckoning. One that seeks to purge Bethel of its sins.

While Immanuelle Moore is isolated from everyone in Bethel, she is not alone. Her best friend is Leah, Bethel’s “golden child,” who is an embodiment of the Scriptures: beautiful with pale skin and virtuous. In fact, Leah is about to marry the Prophet and join the rest of his wives at his home. Leah will be residing with Ezra, the Prophet’s son and successor, who is two years older than Immanuelle and Leah. Just like Immanuelle, Ezra hasn’t reached maturity, and the two form an awkward, yet strong friendship as dark forces, and adulthood, head their way. Similar to how Immanuelle learns about the Dark Mother from the witches, she learns about the Good Father and the Prophet from both Leah and Ezra. And, neither of them are what Immanuelle expects them to be based on her education, which makes her question what she was taught about both religions and her parents’ fates. It is because of her friends that Immanuelle is able to come into her own without fear or loneliness.

The one thing that makes this novel standout from others from the same genre with a similar narrative, is it gets to the main issue of religion in the novel within the first few pages: sex and race. The Year of the Witching is a story about the hypocrisy and the criticisms found in most religions, while presenting magic and the supernatural as the real thing. However, if denizens inside and outside Bethel once had powers to work miracles, then why do so few of them possess them now? Who is allowed to pass judgment when everyone is capable of committing sin? Why does religious text include their followers and omit everyone else? Revelations force an entire theocratic community to reconsider the power structure that is their being as opposing forces reemerge for vengeance.

The style Henderson uses in her novel focuses on the criticism and the hypocrisy surrounding most religions. While it is obvious this story is a reimagining of Christianity versus paganism, the themes of ageism, sexism, abuse of power, and blind devotion are foundations found throughout many religious groups in modern society. All of the allusions to Biblical names, locations, and tales of the Old and the New Testaments presents a deeper understanding of expectations readers should have of the novel. The style, the themes and the critique are familiar, yet the story is spellbinding.

Not only do I believe the author is presenting a story about the hypocrisy found within religion, but also offers a powerful possibility of what could happen when an individual seeks revenge due to generations of lies, malice and corruption from a group of people who believe they are better than everyone else. And, those acts of revenge are carried out, but there is usually another side to the story, and no, it’s not what you expect it to be, which makes the novel all the more immersive and enjoyable. Another thing you should know about this novel is the answers to the questions the protagonist (and you) have are given to her. This means the protagonist is free to make her choices without any deception. In other words, this novel about magic and religion allows for the manifestation of free will to be executed by all of the characters; and they must live with those choices.

The Year of the Witching is the debut novel you heard of but weren’t sure whether or not you should read. If you are a fan of Ninth House, His Dark Materials, and/or stories by Alice Hoffman and/or Louisa Morgan, then this novel will be appealing to you. Even if you are not a fan of dark fantasy or occult fiction, you should read this book because it presents a new talent within the expanding genre that is speculative fiction. It is that good! And yes, Henderson announced a sequel to this novel, and I can’t wait to read it!

The Year of the Witching is a fast-paced occult fiction story about the duality of magic, religion and family embodied into a non-traditional coming-of-age story about rebellion and opposing forces. Regardless of whether or not this genre of fantasy is to your liking, you will appreciate the talent found within the author’s debut novel.

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