A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.Amazon Synopsis
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.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson is a dark, feminist fantasy that intertwines elements of folk horror and romance. If you are looking for a light horror novel that heavily focuses on witches and religious controversy, then this is the novel for you.
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I first came across The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson in the horror section of my local indie bookstore a few weeks ago, and it felt like the perfect spooky read to kick off the autumn season. I didn’t realize at the time that the novel would focus heavily on dark fantasy more than horror, but it did remind me of the folk horror sub-genre, which happens to be my favorite. I was also intrigued by the focus on witches with a feminist vein that was carried throughout the novel, so I felt like I was in for a one-of-a-kind ride.
The Year of the Witching follows Immanuelle, a young girl who has been cast down in her community. Her mother had a union with an outsider of a different race, which shamed her family, so Immanuelle tries her best to be submissive in her settlement and live a life of conformity.
However, Immanuelle finds herself in the Darkwood one night, the area that surrounds her small town. It is there where the first prophet killed four women who were powerful witches, and now the spirits of those witches live in Darkwood. On that night, they give Immanuelle her mother’s journal, and Immanuelle learns that her mother used to seek sanctuary in the Darkwood. Her mother’s journal reveals thing to her that give Immanuelle a window into her mother’s life, and Immanuelle begins to learn more about the secrets and darkness that surround her small town. Immanuelle realizes that she is the one who can fight her town’s darkness, and she begins to feel a sense of strength that she never felt before.
First of all, Immanuelle is probably one of my favorite literary characters that I have read in quite some time. She is oppressed and outcast, yet she is filled with such quiet strength that I couldn’t help but admire her. Alexis Henderson did well to portray an oppressed woman in a male dominated society who finds strength in herself to challenge the status quo. I found this to be very modern and unusual for the setting, as the town in the book mirrored puritan New England. However, since the book is labeled as a fantasy, it made sense to bring in a more feminist focused protagonist.
The role of women in Immanuelle’s small town added to the horror aspects of the novel. I was sickened by how women were seen as property, and ultimately disposable. Henderson did well to portray the oppression that women face on a daily basis, while using magic and female pride to overcome the obstacles that women faced in this small town.
Even though The Year of the Witching is more fantasy focused, there were some horror elements present throughout the novel that haunted me. These included such things as animal sacrifices, which led me to feel a strong sense of dread. However, these sacrifices weren’t extremely detailed, which left much to the imagination. Henderson did well to create light horror elements that added to the eerie setting of the novel but didn’t create extreme fear in the reader. It is because of this that I can honestly say The Year of the Witching is perfect for those who prefer light horror novels.
The Year of the Witching is a unique and powerful feminist fantasy with elements of horror, but I gave it four out of five stars because at times the novel was very slow. I had hoped that there would be scarier elements to the story, but it is a good slow scare for readers who may not be ready to pursue scarier books in the genre. It gives off great spooky vibes which makes it perfect for Halloween, so if you are looking for a light scare that is perfect for the upcoming spooky season, then look no further than The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson.
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