Cover Image: The Year of the Witching

The Year of the Witching

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Member Reviews

From the publisher: A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

Immanuelle has grown up under the watchful eye of the Prophet, and has done her best to obey the rules of her society because she already garners suspicion based on the way she looks. She begins to see the flaws in the leaders, and a series of plagues suddenly descend upon the community. In discovering the reasons for the difficulties her community faces, Immanuelle must discover the power within herself.

I found this a unique fantasy story, but one I will probably not think about come the end of the summer. There are themes of race, witchcraft, and a splash of LGBT rep, but nothing is developed in any depth. The descriptions of the witches were visceral and creepy, but I had a hard time picturing any of the other characters. I would definitely pick up the next novel from Alexis Henderson, and there are certainly people who will connect to this.

I received this as a review copy from NetGalley and Ace Books. All opinions are my own.
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Tense, terrifying, spooky and dark! Perfect witchy read!
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

I really liked this one. It was so atmospheric and the setting was perfect. It left enough open for my imagination to fill in the blanks. It feels very... Salem Witch Trials time period, but it's farther along than that I think.  It was haunting and perfectly paced to slowly crank up the horror-adjacent elements as Immanuelle delves deeper into what's going on.

I don't want to spoil too much, so I won't tell you if my "The Village" vibes were right. I won't tell you if they overcome the plagues. I won't reveal whether there is a happy, almost happy, or sad ending. But I will encourage you to read this book.

4 out of 5 stars. Definitely recommend if you like witchy stories.
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Touted as The Handmaid's Tale meets Salem, The Year of the Witching if definitely a deliciously dark tale you don't want to miss out on.

Filled with terrifying scenes of both the macabre and dark times for women, this is one read that will keep you flipping the pages and utterly enthralled at its uniqueness. With jaw dropping moments and heart pounding danger, not to mention the gruesome detail and imagery, this is definitely a story that just might keep you up at night in all ways possible. Definitely a read for those that aren't faint of heart.
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I’m not entirely sure how I felt about this book, but I’m going to try to explain my feelings as best as possible. Right off the bat, I wanted this book. I knew absolutely nothing about it other than there were witches and it was supposed to be horror. I was also really excited because it wasn’t a YA book. I’ve been trying to move away from the genre because I like darker things. While we do have a teenage character, this definitely wasn’t YA. However, it wasn’t as dark or as scary as I thought it would be.

I like the characters fine. I didn’t really love any of them and maybe that was most of the problem. I like the idea of the world and this basic cult like place and the forest that surrounds them. I loved the stories about the witches in the woods, but that was really it. There was a lot, especially in the beginning where Immanuelle is alone and its very heavily detailed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time, it didn’t work for me and I felt myself putting this book down and picking up after a couple days. It kept happening even when the story picked up.

Honestly, if I would have liked the characters better, I’m sure I would have loved this book, but it was okay.
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Alexis Henderson's horror feminist fantasy stars teenager Immanuelle, who is born into the most misogynistic cult imaginable. Imagine "The Handmaid's Tale" world run by an aging Jeffrey Epstein with a messiah complex and a yen for torture as the Prophet/Pastor/Guru and you've got the general setting.

In Bethel, the people are led by a predatory pedophilic polygamist prophet, they worship a Father God of Light, and on the Outskirts, the Outskirters worship the Mother Goddess of Darkness. The Outskirts are the wrong side of the tracks. Bethel borders scary woods where the legions of the Dark Mother hang out with their hordes of foul beasts. However, the wood-dwellers in human form are dead. Kind of. They are zombie witches. A couple of them are lesbian zombie witches. Immanuelle (naturally) is the would-be savior of. . . somebody. Menstruation is a big deal and if it's Immanuelle's it can bring on plagues, and stop plagues, only sometimes Immanuelle says it was her mother Miriam (a witch) who cursed her so that she could cause plagues.

I was befuddled by the status of the zombie witches and how often they need to be destroyed or appeased or whatever, and also could not figure out who was cursing or plaguing (or uncursing and unplaguing) Bethel, and by what means precisely. Is it blood? Is it sigils-and-lots-of-blood? Is it the zombie witches just thinking they've caused enough chaos and going back to the woods for a century or so? I found the book reasonably entertaining apart from this confusion and the general ick factor. Despite all of the abuses perpetuated by the cult even against her own family, Immanuelle is a diehard true believer in the cult and breaks free of its mind control only gradually. Her transformation is well rendered.

The book needs more exposition at the beginning to tell the reader what is happening with all the weird twisted religion stuff so that sensitive readers (whether pro- or anti- religion) don't put it down on page 3.. A "once upon a time" sort of intro would be most welcome. The book is artful in its simplicity; the prose trips along quite well. I was all in with Immanuelle as a main character even though I still had a lot of questions at the end. Fans of horror fantasy who wear "f**** the patriarchy" t-shirts should find it rousing and diverting.

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from Penguin Random House and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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In this book we follow Immanuelle, who lives in a puritanical village surrounded by woods. One day Immanuelle goes into the Darkwood and has a chance encounter with some witches. The story takes off from there, but I don’t want to give too much away. 

First of all, you should know that two of my buzzwords are witches and woods so the synopsis of this book immediately drew me in. I loved the atmosphere of the Darkwood and how creepy the four witches were in this book. Another thing I enjoyed about this book was Immanuelle’s friendship with Leah. Too often in books we don’t get to see healthy female friendships, but these two were great together. There is also a hint of romance that plays an important role in the plot. I thought it was really well done for the most part. 

Overall, I felt that this was an excellent debut. It was beautifully written, dark, and atmospheric. I look forward to seeing what Alexis Henderson comes out with next.
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THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING conjures up a dark, supernatural fantasy about a young woman living as an outcast in a harsh, puritanical society who discovers her mother’s hidden legacy and the forbidden forest which calls to a growing power rising within her.

A bewitching tale of horror with a feminist twist — Salem meets The Handmaid's Tale

Henderson's debut crafts a dark, witchy, coming-of-age read that is equal parts frightening and enthralling.

Immanuelle is a fearless and resilient young woman who is trying to balance her spiritual life with that of being a woman of a different race, born with the sins of her mother's past placed upon her shoulders, and who is shunned by the spiritual leaders of Bethel.

Henderson creates a complicated young, heroine torn between following the protocols of the Prophet and protecting those she cares about.

“She was born breech, in the deep of night. The midwife, Martha, had to seize her by the ankles and drag her form the womb. She slipped out easy, dropped limp into Martha’s arms, and lay still as stone.

Her name, she demanded, eyes sharp with moonlight. Give me her name.

Immanuelle, she finally bit it out like a curse. She will be called Immanuelle.”

I love the atmosphere created in this book. The story is suspenseful and it tones Gothic with a creeping sense of dread felt throughout.

I was on edge when reading about Immanuelle's first encounter with the witches of the Darkwood forest. The scenes of witchery and plagues are shocking and filled with visceral imagery.

“Immanuelle had always felt a strange affinity for the Darkwood, a kind of stirring whenever she neared it. It was almost as though the forbidden wood sang a song that only she could hear, as though it was daring her to come closer.”

The juxtaposition between the hedonistic supernaturalism of the forest and the stark spiritualism of Bethel really captures the essence of the story with Immanuelle caught between the two.

At its core, this is a story of forbidden love, curses, and forgiveness. It is also an exploration of the abuse of power in its many available forms. A bewitching debut with an exciting new voice that captures the horror of old world witchery with a feminist twist.

I received a complimentary ARC from the publisher, courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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I really enjoyed the world building, as well as the historical setting of this story.  It was a fantastic, haunting, and sensational debut.
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Giving this 3 stars, to be taken with a grain of salt because this is not my usual genre.  I loved all the witchy things, the feminist themes,  the general sense of rebellion, and the social commentary.  

I had a hard time with the "triggering" types of things and I'm not usually a fan of the love stories.  I just don't understand why they ALWAYS have to have a role in any YA books.  I truly wonder if girls growing up would grow up learning that books, movies, EVEN THEMSELVES can, in fact, be complete without a love story.  

This will be a good one for YA fantasy lovers, horror lovers,  and people who love witchy books.
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"Her rage was such that she felt it would never be sated unless Bethel was brought to its knees. And that frightened her."

I don't read much fantasy at all, but this book intrigued me with the promise of horror and witches. The Year of the Witching isn't horror, but is more of a new adult dark fantasy trying to be The Handmaid's Tale.

Things I liked: the teen girl protagonist coming of age and awakening with rage at her patriarchal society! Always into feminist rage!  Immanuelle starts weak and ends strong as hell and I enjoyed her journey to get there. The history of the plagues, the witches and the Darkwood was interesting to learn about too.

Things I didn't like: the forced romance. I get it-- every damn slightly YA book seems to need some romantic interest, but this one didn't add anything to the story and was frustrating to read about because it didn't make sense. Why do they put strong female characters with boring nice dudes who just happen to be kind and that's the basis of their personality?! 
There are some loose ends that just kinda disappear after being mentioned and so I assume there's a sequel on the way? 
If not I'm going to be annoyed to be we know what happens to two important characters.

All in all, not a bad book, just one with a slow start that rapidly builds up intensity.
If you like reading about old school  puritanical society witches with a setting that's basically M Night Shyamalan's The Village mixed with a feminist agenda you'll like this!

3.5 stars rounded to 4 because the concept is great, but slightly flawed in execution.

TW: abuse, mutilation, self-harm, animal abuse, lotsa religious bits.
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I really enjoyed this dark YA supernatural horror fantasy. It reminded me of the Handmaid's Tale set in Puritan times but even more cult-like with magic. I knew it would be interesting in the first couple pages when we learn that Immanuelle gets her name because it means cursed, when in Hebrew the name Emmanuel in the Bible means "God is with us."

This literal fire and brimstone religion rules the town with the Prophet holding all of the power. Normally books with polygamy, harems, or anything with multiple wives rubs me the wrong way and is a turn-off, but the sexism and oppression was so drastic and severe it worked to further Henderson's story of women's rage burning the world down. In this town the girls' only goal is to become the wife of an important man; they are expected to bear the man's children as well as society's sin.

I would have enjoyed more world-building and history of this community, with its centuries of violent history. But I did appreciate that each chapter began with a quote or verse from the holy scripture or from a past prophet, which gives the reader more insight without getting the whole story.

Right at the beginning we learn Immanuelle feels a pull to the Darkwood (the name is pretty explanatory), and the more she explores the physical Darkwood the more she discovers about herself, her mother, her ancestry, and her connection to the mysterious and powerful witches. Even though the author doesn't go in depth with most of the side characters she continued to surprise me with their choices and where everyone ends up. The ending was satisfying but still left me wanting to read more.
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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson, has so many elements that are my favorites in books- witchcraft, a well depicted and eerie setting, elements of the supernatural and a strong female protagonist and a hint of feminism. 

Let me just say that it didn’t disappoint. I found myself caught up in the dark gothic atmosphere from the first page. And it was also clear that the author was having fun playing with numerous horror and witchcraft tropes and reinventing them for this story.

This story is above all a dark and twisted feminist fairy tale of the battle between witchcraft and patriarchy. Although set hundreds of years ago, the fear men have of powerful women still rings true today. And the character of Immanuel is a heroine for the ages. I loved this novel!!!!
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What a sensational debut! Henderson wove the most deliciously dark tale and I wanted to savor it as long as I could. Haunting, horrifying, and so, so human. I could not put this story down!
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The Year of the Witching is a perfect story for an on-edge October read. It features a spooky forest, wraithlike witches, and–scariest of all–a hypocritical, patriarchal, puritanical setting.

This book was a really interesting combination of supernatural horror and horror of the human variety. I’ve seen it compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, and I think that is actually a pretty accurate likening (if The Handmaid’s Tale was also an episode of Supernatural). The story follows Immanuelle Moore, a girl who feels a strange calling to the Darkwood, a forest that is feared by the rest of her highly religious society, called Bethel. While in the forest, she has eerie encounters with ancient witches who had been shunned and burned by Bethelans hundreds of years ago.

I don’t read much horror, but when I compare this book to horror movies I’ve seen, it is definitely scarier. Letting your imagination fill in the gaps allows your brain to put its worst nightmares right alongside everything else in the pages. The spooky scenes in this book freaked me the hell out, so, in that regard, this book gets full points from me.

The setting also works very well for this book. Bethel is a settlement with vast farmland and a few small villages, surrounded completely by a monitored gate. The book takes place during an indeterminate time period and with indeterminate geography, so it’s hard to tell if it was supposed to take place in a historical era, or if it is complete fantasy. Honestly, I think this works well because it allows you to focus completely on Henderson’s world without thinking about outside politics or influences. The highly religious community in Bethel is led by a single Prophet, along with his Apostles. The Prophet, as you can probably expect, is a sleazy douchebag with absolutely nothing holy about him. It’s fascinating to see how he manipulates the townspeople using God as an excuse for his despicable behavior. There is very much of a cult mindset, so it’s interesting to see our characters fighting against that.

I think what brought the rating down for me were the characters. Immanuelle in particular just felt a bit predictable to me. Throughout the book, she is fighting between this call to the evil witches in the woods and her obligation to help the innocents in Bethel. I think the stakes of this struggle never felt high enough, it was easy to see that she would pick one side despite temptations to the other. I wanted to see her dip into darkness, I wanted to see her struggle to find her way out of it. It all felt just a little too easy. Not only that, but we also don’t see much characterization from her. Her dialogue is pretty limited, and we don’t really see much of her thoughts. She felt pretty static/boring, very much like a YA character. It would have been cool to see the perspectives of other characters, like the Prophet or Immanuelle’s mother.

Overall, this was an incredibly well-written, well-paced, and well-conceived story. It has themes of witchcraft, feminism, and rebellion that strangely work very well together. I would definitely recommend for those looking for something darker.
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I received this title as an ARC from NetGalley. Interesting magical, feminist dystopian novel.  Was quite a quick read.  Would be interested to know more about the backstory and what is beyond the territory of Bethel, the dystopian community.
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A dark fantasy title that manages to encourage critical questioning of your own beliefs, reminiscent of The Black Witch Chronicles by Laurie Forest, The Year of the Witching adds in puritanical tyranny and a feminist view of “the sins of our fathers”. Following Immanuelle, a young woman born of a forbidden union, we see our protagonist find herself, her past, and her future, all within the confines of a male elevated society and religion.
There were some poignant sections of dialogue that brought me to tears, which doesn’t happen often. Henderson’s ability to draw you so deeply into the world she’s created is incredible, and I became deeply attached to her characters through their trials and tribulations. The atmosphere she wrought is dark, with pinpricks of hope you chase along with Immanuelle. This upcoming release is not to be missed!
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I don’t normally read a lot of books about witches but boy am I glad I read this book. This book has amazing intersectional feminism, a great exploration of identity and then some magical realism and issues with curses and plagues all rolled into one novel. I have no idea how Alexis Henderson did it! I am in awe. 

Immanuelle is such an interesting character because she has such conflicting identities going on. She has her family, very much part of her past, the church and community, her present and then she has her own views and values which are basically her future. I loved the way she handled herself throughout the novel and that this book is very much about her and the way she handles the problems that she is faced with. I felt very sorry for her and wanted to champion her throughout the book. 

The magic in this book is just the right level of magic for me as a reader. I could picture the curses and plagues involved in all of the issues that Immanuelle faces. Everything is very believable and it all ties in with the stories of witches I grew up with, the Salem Trials and the dunking in Tudor England. I loved the mix of real and magical here, it ties together nicely with the issues of religion and darkness throughout the book. 

I also really loved the description of the setting in this book. I could picture the dark woods and Immanuelle’s home. I could picture the other woman described and the pastor and their marriage ceremonies! Overall I really enjoyed Immanuelle’s story and would love to read more from this author in the future!
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The Year of the Witching was pitched as being inspired by The VVitch, so perhaps it's on me for allowing my expectations to climb sky-high due to the association with one of my favorite movies of all time. The VVitch is disturbing and unsettling and claustrophobic; The Year of the Witching is standard YA fantasy fare, and this despite the fact that it is not YA fantasy, but adult.

Immanuelle is a character I struggled to get a grasp on, and perhaps that is because she is so...generic, almost as though, rather than an actual person, she's just a stand-in and mouthpiece for the various themes and ideas about gender and race that are heavy-handedly hammered through the narrative with zero subtlety. Similarly, the love interest, Ezra was milquetoast and bland; how convenient it is that despite his upbringing in this super patriarchal world he's magically a Good Guy and Rational Thinker. His romance with Immanuelle felt completely shoehorned into a narrative where it didn't belong.

There are some brief scenes and lines where the narrative starts to verge on horror, but these are few and far between, so the book as a whole never quite gets there, never reaches that apex of dread that The WWitch manages so easily. Oddly, the stakes never felt high enough, even though the stakes are literally death by plagues, but maybe this is just because I didn't care about any of the characters very much.

The main thing this book has going for it is its readability; I sped through it and generally enjoyed my time reading it, even if I had issues and was sorely disappointed. The writing is fine, the plot comes together just fine, and it's a decent enough book, but it had so much unused potential, discarded in exchange for standard fare YA romance and a generic protagonist. But part of this is on me, for having some very specific expectations, and I can't blame the book for not meeting those, since it is clearly aiming to be something very different from what I had expected. Since it was successful in fulfilling its own aims and it never bored me, it gets a lowish 3-star rating from me!
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Take 2 parts the Salem Witch Trials, 1 part the Book of Revelations, 1 part a patriarchal cult community and 1 part feminism, and you get this book! The first half was a bit slow for me but by the end, I was literally holding my hand over the page so I would only read one line at a time and not accidentally see too far ahead and spoil the action.
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