Witchy Wednesday: A Review of The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
As you may know, I’ve been very excited to read The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. If you read my Five Books to Read This Spooky Season post, then you also know that said book has been chillin on my bedside table waiting for me to finally crack into it.
That time has come! I can hold off no longer. Spooky season is here and I am ready to drink hot apple cider, watch Halloween films nightly, read my favorite horror novels, and try to find ghosts.
The Year of the Witching kicked off this year’s spooky season for me. This story follows Immanuelle Moore. She’s the outsider in the small, puritanical town of Bethel as her mother fell in love with a man of a different race. Living in disgrace, her and her family do everything they can to lead a life of conformity in the rigid town; they do everything and anything to prevent the Prophet’s church from being angry with them. Immanuelle doesn’t always follow the rules though. Not only is she an outcast, but she isn’t afraid of the forbidden Darkwood that surrounds Bethel.
You see, many, many years ago there were four witches who lived in Bethel. Their story is one of pain and war that ends with death. These four witches were dragged into Darkwood by the first Prophet of Bethel and were murdered. It is rumored that their spirits still remain in the woods, which Immanuelle learns to be true. One day, upon venturing into Darkwood, she stumbles across two of the witches and her world is then challenged as they present her with a gift: her dead mother’s diary.
With her entire world challenged, Immanuelle struggles with learning the shocking and disturbing secrets about Bethel and the Church, and knowing that she is the only one who can make Bethel change its way before the town destroys itself with its own darkness.
My overall thoughts on this book are that it is very enjoyable. It’s not without its faults, but I wasn’t disappointed with it. The characters were dynamic, and the storyline was interesting. My two main issues were with the witches of the story, and the love story.
We’ll get into all of that in just one moment, but first a trigger warning. The Year of the Witching has moments of animal cruelty, abuse, and just a tad bit of what I would categorize as pedophilia or sexual assault of a minor. It should be noted that this book is set in a time period that’s similar to the 1600’s when child marriage was considered normal. I only mark pedophilia because there is a lot of attention brought to the ages of the characters in question. I’ll talk a little more about this situation and explain it better in just a little bit.
But first, I want to start with the positives of this book. The characters are so fleshed out. One of my big fears was that Immanuelle was going to be one of those “not like other girls” type of characters. She isn’t thankfully. She’s someone who is a little desperate to fit in, but she doesn’t want to have to sacrifice who she is as a person to do so. She just wants to survive and better her life and that of her family's as well. She never asked to be thrust into a world of witches and dark secrets, but she is definitely intrigued by the witches and the gift they have given her.
I have a bit of a hard time pinning her personality down. I can easily say she’s hardworking and headstrong, but she’s hyper focused on figuring out what her mother did in Darkwood while she was pregnant. More time is spent on Immanuelle figuring things out instead of really getting into the nitty gritty of who she is as a person. This isn’t something that I necessarily minded, but it is something to note. The mystery and events that take place in the book are 10-out-of-10; this is not a plot that one can easily guess in advance. A little more time spent on getting to know Immanuelle’s personality would have been nice though.
Now, Prophet on the other hand is a character you fully know from the first moment he appears on the page. Basically, he’s Claude Frollo from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He’s nasty, he’s lustful, he’s straight up evil. And yes, in my head the Prophet was just this animated character in a world of people; I honestly would want this no other way. Also the Prophet does have a name, but I for the life of me cannot remember it nor can I find it just by skimming the novel; sorry about that.
If you didn’t guess, this is the character who participates in that pedophilia/sexual assault of a minor trigger warning I put in. If you don’t want to read about that then I’d suggest skipping the next paragraph.
Like I said, this man is straight up nasty. If you aren’t imagining Claude Frollo yet, then let’s talk about his many wives. As the Prophet of Bethel, he’s basically the head of the government in the small town. As the head of state he’s able to take as many wives as he wants, and it doesn’t matter that they’re always teenagers that he takes advantage of before marriage. Leah, Immanuelle's one friend, is 16 and pregnant at her wedding to the Prophet. This is single handedly the most disturbing part of the book. I can take ax murders, covens of witches, demons, supernatural specters, and houses of hell all day every day, but the minute the horrors become grounded in reality my skin crawls. The Prophet is definitely a character that will keep you up all night.
There is one other notable main character: Ezra. He is the son of the Prophet and is expected to take over for as the town leader once his father passes away. Where the Prophet rules with an iron fist and is an all around terrible person, Ezra is much more gentle hearted and does not agree with how his father rules Bethel.
He befriends Immanuelle and is determined to help her save Bethel. I honestly have nothing else to say on Ezra. He’s presented as more of a mysterious, brooding type, but it feels like that part of his personality was added in to add to the love story between him and Immanuelle.
Their relationship is supposed to be this big, scandalous thing as she’s the town outcast. Their friendship is not supposed to happen, let alone a romantic relationship. Thankfully, Alexis Henderson does not make this a love at first sight type of relationship. Instead Henderson makes the pair friends at first and allows feelings to slowly grow and develop between the two. I appreciate that the love story feels more realistic this way, but it's really shoehorned in. It feels that this pair were only meant to be friends and nothing more, and then it was suggested they get together in the end.
I really would have preferred it if more time was spent with the four witches instead of on Immanuelle and Ezra’s relationship. Henderson’s look for the witches is so cool. Two of the witches, Jael and Mercy, are these gangly, stark white, skeletal like figures. Delilah is covered in seaweed, slime, and is the color of swamp water. Lilith straight up has an animal skull for a head. They are all described so eerily beautiful that my descriptions don’t do them justice. Their backstory is crafted just as well, but not enough time is spent with them.
I want more insight into their plans for revenge. Yes, the leaders of Bethel murdered them in the woods in the early years of Bethel, but why did they wait hundreds of years for revenge? What don’t they commune with Immanuelle more? How did they even come up with their plan? How much of a pawn was Immanuelle’s mother or was her involvement more of a wrong place at the wrong time type of situation?
I want to spend more time with these witches. They are an integral part of this story, but the most they are seen is in the last few chapters. I demand more witches and less love story! These four are a bigger part of this story than Ezra and Immanuelle’s feelings toward each other and are not treated as such. Hello, Alexis Henderson, I would like a prequel from the witches POV. I’ll give you my money right now.
This is a standout first novel for Henderson. It’s twisty and turny and keeps you guessing. If you see it out in the wild, then pick it up, it’s definitely worth a read.