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The Year of the Witching

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Member Reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve read truly good paranormal fiction, and The Year of the Witching is exactly the kind of fast-paced, terrifying, and witchy story I needed. The premise promises a deliciously dark and twisted tale of social revolution set in a dystopian world, and Henderson does not disappoint.

The child born of an illicit union between a dark-skinned Outskirter and the daughter of one of the apostles, Immanuelle Moore has kept her head down for years, quietly following the Holy Protocol like all the women in Bethel, and doing her best not to follow in the footsteps of her mother. However, during an accidental (or was it?) trip into the mysterious Darkwood, Immanuelle receives a gift from the witches residing there- her long dead mother’s diary. Immanuelle finds out that her mother had once sought the help of the witches to wreak vengeance on the Prophet for sending her lover to the pyre. As she discovers grim truths about the Church, for the first time, Immanuelle begins to really question the Scriptures and the rules people in Bethel have always put blind faith upon, and the religion that has led to the merciless killings of generations of innocent women.

Henderson blends the supernatural with the real, expertly and ingeniously using dark witchcraft, sigils, and magical plagues to weave in real world themes and issues like racism, the oppression and silencing of women, and religious abuse. Her prose is bewitching in itself, I just couldn’t get enough of her words. The narrative pulls you in right from the beginning and doesn’t leave any room for other thoughts in your head the entire time you spend reading this book. Even though the chapters are kept short, Henderson knows just where to end a chapter to keep you turning pages in nail-biting anticipation as you keep expecting the worst to happen.

The Year of the Witching is the best kind of horror/paranormal fiction, and not just because the bleak, eerie setup and the graphic depiction of the horrors of the Darkwood will haunt your dreams for days to come. The true horror of this story lies in the brutally honest way Henderson describes the atrocities committed in the name of religion and the cruelties of the society that’s complicit for never questioning or opposing the system, and in the somewhat detached way she talks of Bethel’s regular life surrounded by blood sacrifices and slaughters, of people being burned alive on pyres, young girls dying in childbirth, and the Prophet carving his mark on the forehead of every bride he takes; because these things are entirely commonplace for those living in Bethel.

The best thing about Henderson’s debut, however, is its iron-willed, multi-layered heroine. All her life, Immanuelle Moore has been abused and looked down upon for the dark colour of her skin that’s considered unholy, and she’s so real and human in a way not a lot of protagonists in fiction manage to be. As a female main character, Immanuelle is a breath of fresh air since she doesn’t begin as tough, rebellious, or gutsy and doesn’t reinforce the strong female character stereotype that makes you want to tear all your hair out. Yes, she sees the flaws in her society and yes, she’s dauntless in her quest to find the power within herself and free Bethel from the clutches of the true evil, but she’s also kind and introspective and vulnerable and deeply caring. I also loved the way Henderson handles complex family dynamics and explores Immanuelle’s various relationships, whether it’s the bumpy one she has with her grandmother or the budding friendship between her and the Prophet’s son, Ezra. There’s also a beautifully rendered and very well fleshed-out romance that you can’t help rooting for!

In conclusion, if you’re on the lookout for a strong, dark, and unapologetically feminist witchy story, this is a book you definitely want on your bookshelf! And if you’ve read and loved Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s All the Bad Apples and since finishing the book been in a state of utter despair because no other book will ever be that good (you’re not alone), I’m pretty sure The Year of the Witching is going to be your cure.
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Alexis Henderson delivered a debut that will tick many boxes for a wide array of readers. The Year of the Witching has elements of both horror and fantasy that are grounded in a society where women and marginalized citizens are meant to serve and maintain the status quo. Henderson's main character is imperfect, but this makes her more relatable as she goes on her search for justice. There were quite a few moments that made me physically recoil just from sheer scare factor and Henderson dances on the line of discomfort that keeps the audience rapt.
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Year Of The Witching By Alexis Henderson

I finished The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson at the beginning of the week. I immediately ran to my laptop, prepared to write my review. Then, I opened WordPress and became a babbling idiot. I lost all ability to word, vocabulary, and communicate. I tore through the thesaurus and then cursed it. Maybe I could write my review of Alexis Henderson's debut in elvish? No. I could not.

So, I slept on it. The next day? Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Today, I don't care if it takes the entire day, I'm going to write my tribute to The Year of the Witching. To accomplish this goal, I'm setting three essential bullet points that I need to accomplish. It might seem like common sense. However, ask anyone that has visited my site, and I don't believe that you will hear streamlined and straight forward as review descriptors. So, for me, this is pretty revolutionary. Here are my three guiding points:

Not spoil anything.
Without breaking #1, dissect how Alex Henderson has no right to have Year of the Witching as a debut. No debut should be legally allowed to deconstruct me on a cellular level.
Without breaking #1, manage, on some level, to convey why The Year of the Witching, and hear me out here, is an incredible Gothic Horror/ Occult novel. But, that is the tip of the literary iceberg of what Alexis Henderson has put into the world.
Don't Dismiss The Horror

Don't get me wrong. Right off the bat, Henderson put me at ease by letting me know that at the very least, The Year of the Witching would deliver on its promise.

A mangle of teeth and eyes and rendered flesh. The tulip of what might have been the creature's womanhood or perhaps an open mouth. Broken fingers and disembodied eyes with slits for pupils. Inexplicably, the ink still looked wet, and it rippled toward the edges of the papers as if, threatening to spill onto the bed, soak the sheets black.

And from there, Henderson ups the ante on the level of horror, not just through the graphic and inventive ways she utilizes witchcraft, sigils, and plagues. The palpable progression of paranormal horrors collide with those created by a patriarchal society, and compelling themes Henderson has been establishing throughout The Year of the Witching. It is at this intersection that Henderson's writing becomes intoxicating.

Horrors Of Reality

There are fantastic horror/occult books, and then there are fiercely, bravely written horror/occult books that take on more. It is what makes excellent fiction brilliant. It has all the shock value, all the entertainment value, and all the gore you want. Then while you are greedily gorging on that piece, there is another type of horror story being told.

That horror story is the one created by society. Year of the Witching equally pulls out all the stops on each front. And then effortlessly entwines them together without pulling punches, and is brutally honest. Yet, with all its intensity and social themes, never once did it feel preachy (except for when men used scripture to control, literally- and, well, that's the point).

That is quite the tightrope to walk, but Henderson walked it like a pro, which she isn't supposed to do, is she? After all, The Year of the Witching is Alexis Henderson's debut novel. How can this possibly be her debut novel? And we haven't even talked about Immanuelle yet. That's next.

Thank you to Ace for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Immanuelle: The Gold Standard

Flat characters, especially the main character, would put all this to waste. A strong main character is a must to pull this all together. In Immanuelle, Henderson has molded one of the most unflinching, courageous, and vehement female heroines in recent memory. I dare say that Henderson, in Immanuelle, has created a gold standard for female heroines with Immanuelle, and I will die on that hill. Immanuelle is strong, defiant, flawed, hated, abused, and oppressed. Immanuelle is also protective, merciful, just, and repentant.

What more can you put on Immanuelle? She is a woman in a Puritan society. Immanuelle is a Black/Biracial woman in a Puritan society. She is a Black/Biracial woman whose mother was exiled and disgraced because she cheated on the Prophet, in a Puritan society. She is a Black/Biracial woman whose mother was exiled and disgraced because she cheated on the Prophet, AND she's a witch, in a Puritan society.

As for the girls like Immanuelle - the ones from the Outskirts, with dark skin and raven-black curls, cheekbones as keen as cut stone- well, the Scriptures never mentioned them at all. There were no statures or paintings rendered in their likeness, no poems or stories penned in their honor. They went unmentioned, unseen.

And STILL, she wants to try and save Bethel. Would I?  Multiple times I noted in my Kindle- but why? Do you have to? Really? But, by the end of the book. I understood, with stunning, blinding clarity why (as the summary states), changing herself, was not enough. She had to start with herself but has to try and change Bethel, too.

In that clarity, through Henderson's damning dialogue, inner-narrative when Immanuelle comes to stand not just in her truth but in Bethel's truth. And in those moments, you stand side-by-side with Immanuelle. As the darkest pieces lock into place, and realization ignites her fervor and cracks your soul, for Immanuelle, for Bethel, and the knowledge that those horrors are still alive, and well today.

Just Saying

 I've pre-ordered the audible and the hardback because GIVE IT TO ME.  To be fair, if it becomes a part of a subscription box, I might replace the hardback with the subscription box.
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'The Year of The Witching' is a mysterious, creepy, and profound book. I adored reading it! Although I was captivated by the story, the underlying race and social issues made the book so hard to put down! Foremost I loved the style of writing and flourishing details of Alexis Henderson's writing.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the digital arc.
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I'm a huge fan of witches. Give me all the dark magic, witches confronting patriarchy. The Year of the Witching's has a terrifying setting - this rigid puritanical setting where faith is used to make excuses for women's exploitation and punishment. I have seen a few people comparing it to The Handmaid's Tale and I can absolutely see the comparison. It's one of those societies of self-policing, of nowhere being safe from prying eyes, and a mixture of conviction and eager hands ready to build pyres.

The setting was so powerfully done and it was more complex than just an awfully sexist and dangerous society. We were able to see the evolution of Immanuelle's character as the book progresses. The ways that this society, and a lot of other contemporary societies, give women the false belief in a perfect woman. A woman who will be able to live, if she just does the right thing, without reproach and in safety. When in reality, that society puts their inadequacies, desires, and burdens on their shoulders. It's a culture of fear and persecution - of punishments and blood.
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I received this free from Netgalley for honest Review. 

4.5 stars ⭐ ⭐⭐ ⭐💫

This is the first time reading from this author.

I really could say that this was great one. I love everything about this book. The words was just like yes give me more. I love the cover even more. Like OMG! 
Love never ends! 
What a great read! This had me hooked from the beginning. The sitting, theme, and the Characters had me pulled so in. Everything was well put together and it was just perfect. This novel did just that to me. 
Highly recommend everybody get this book and read it. Its so good!
Can't wait for the next book.
#netgalley #theyearofthewitching
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“Girl’s like you don’t last long in Bethel. Which is why you need to keep your head down if you want to survive this.” 

OH MY GOSH THIS BOOK!!  It is so incredibly well written and the story just hooks you in. I was only 10% in when I knew that I was going to really enjoy this book. This book is dark, bloody and very creepy but I was 100% here for it.

It’s set in a puritan society that learns towards being very cultish and of course is under the leadership of a corrupt Prophet.  The plagues that are the main plot of the book reminded me a lot of the show Sleepy Hollow which had the same dark and kinda creepy vibes. I’ve also seen other reviewers compare this book to The Handmaid’s Tale and the show Salem (which I haven’t read or watch but know enough to agree with those comparisons) 

I really liked Immanuelle.  I think her character develops so well through out the book. Towards the end she is very sure of herself and so willing to sacrifice herself to save the community that has turned their back on her (and her family) in the past. I also liked Ezra’s character and really wished he had been in the story a little more. 

But overall this book was AMAZING! So well written and it’s safe to say I have a new favorite author! 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book!

*I received an advance reader copy in exchange for a honest review*
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Blood, Blight, Darkness, Slaughter.

This book was EVERYTHING. It was a page turner and caught myself up reading it til 4am for two nights in a row with a huge thunder storm which was a perfect setting for this read. It was eerie, and chilling and I loved Immanuelle and Ezra. 

This book is about a young girl named Immanuelle who is cursed because of her mother and her sins and who dies giving birth to Immanuelle. Immanuelle lives in a small village which is very culty and the Prophet is their leader. The woods are dangerous and belong to the witches and the village is told to stay away from it but the woods and darkness calls to Immanuelle which leads her into discovering her true self & her past.

I want to thank Berkely publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read and review this book. I enjoyed it so much I already preordered!
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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Blood  Blight  Darkness  Slaughter...
Immanuelle Moore is a 17 year old girl  living in Bethel with her grandparents.  Bethel is a puritanical town where men are Prophets and Apostles and have many wives.  The women are there to serve.  Immanuelle is the child of Miriam who was burned at the stake for defying church law and witchcraft, and Daniel Ward, a farm hand from the Outsiders, the dark-skinned people who live and survive on the outskirts of Bethel.  When mysterious illnesses and disasters occur, Immanuelle seeks answers, only to find that she unknowingly is more involved in the plagues than she realizes.  Is she Bethel's savior or its destruction?

I loved this book and could not put it down!  It is like The Handmaid's Tale with a twist of Wicked Girls all in one.  Immanuelle is curious about life beyond Bethel but it is forbidden.  She excels at reading when most girls her age can barely read more than their names and a verse or two from the scriptures.    She sees the injustice evil that exists and the men (and women) who condone it and are silent as happens.  And Immanuelle has had enough.
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I really tried, but just couldn't get into it. I went ahead and read the ending and still was meh. Not my cup of tea I guess.
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I really, really wanted to love this book, and for the majority of it I was definitely invested.

The witchy gothic horror aesthetic was wonderfully interesting, and even with my gripes about it I could see it making a fantastic Netflix series. It reminded me a lot of Running Out of Time and The Village, and there were aspects of it that were very cinematic. 

Immanuelle is a girl living in a puritanical polygamist cult society run by The Prophet. The Prophet is a horrible, horrible person. Like, stomach-turningly horrible. Plagues descend upon the land brought by undead witches of the forest, and Immanuelle finds that she is intricately connected to the plagues. She sets off to try to figure out how to counteract them, and goes on a journey of discovering witchcraft along the way, and discovering why the society was cursed with them to begin with.

Ultimately, though, the ending let me down so much that I felt retroactively deflated by the whole reading experience. The first gripe I have is about the main character, and the second is about the plot, so warning for generic spoilers about how the plot unfolds.

First, I never felt like I had a good handle on where Immanuelle was in her personal journey. There was a lot of wishy-washiness in the narrative at times and although I could technically tell you what her motives were, it was oddly foggy in the latter half of the book. It's hard to explain without going into great detail, and it could just be my personal experience with the book and not anything to do with the writing, but she seemed to lack direction at a couple of crucial points in the narrative. 

Second, and this is the big one with spoilers: holy heck the lack of consequences at the end was ASTOUNDING. I have never read such an unsatisfying taking-of-the-high-road. The Prophet is so horrible, all I wanted was for Immanuelle to make him suffer. For ANYONE to make him suffer. I admit, I was desperate for vengeance. It didn't even need to be killing or maiming him, it could have been a backhanded high-roading like at the end of Ever After when Danielle sends her stepmother and stepsister to work as laundry maids and they have to wallow in the results of their behavior forever.... but no, he faces no consequences. And the society faces no consequences. 

I wanted to see Immanuelle dismantle this horrible society she's grown up in, but it seemed totally unchanged at the end. She even says it herself in the epilogue: "Sometimes I feel like we're just rehashing the past all over again. I hate feeling that we've gotten this far only to become what others have already been before us."

I could accept this ending if the theme of the book was that we're bound to our fate and that we're powerless to change the world around us, but the book seems to be trying to convey the exact opposite--that it's our responsibility to change what's entrenched in our society. And I could maybe understand the lack of change if this was the beginning of a series, and there are a couple of questions left unanswered that make me think it could be, but ultimately I'm so let down by the end of this book that I don't feel compelled to keep an eye out for a book two. 

In summary, I think this book has a lot going for it, and I do think it's worth reading, but the way the ending played out was a personal bummer and left a bad taste in my mouth.
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The Year of the Witching is a crackling, chilling, phenomenal debut. The novel's heroine is worthy, courageous, and wise; you'll root for her as she faces down both her own harrowing birthright, and the twisted, bloodthirsty patriarchal theocracy that's oppressed her, and all the young women like her, since birth. Young Immanuelle wields the former against the latter in surprising, satisfying ways. Henderson writes with skill and grace, tackling weighty themes that resonate today. Yes, many of Bethel's sins are our own, and the message is clear: blood begets blood, and no one escapes atonement. There is always a price to pay. At every turn, the details sing, the action crackles, and the bloody tension rises. Yes, The Year of the Witching features enough bone-chilling horror, subversive twists and gory comeuppance to satisfy even the most ardent fans of the genre. This one has lots of crossover potential. Highly recommended for adult and young adult collections.
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This is a wonderfully inventive book that draws the reader in and does not let go. I could not put it down. The world-building by Henderson is tremendous, grim, and exciting. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an unique YA fantasy.
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I loved this book. It's normally not my genre but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I went back and forth between kindle and a print copy because I couldn't put it down and took it everywhere with me. The blood imagery was really prominent in the book and it gave the book another layer of interest for me. It was well-written. The heroine was easy to identify with and she captured me almost immediately.  Overall, a good read, I highly recommend.
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I can only describe this book as dark, disturbing, and amazingly insightful. I loved it! While I found the plot engaging and unique, first and foremost I fell in love with Henderson's writing. I started reading and couldn't put the book down. The characters proved interesting; however, they almost seemed secondary to the plot and subtext. The story touched on so many themes like race, religion, and culture. Overall I was very impressed with this book and would highly recommend it. 

A HUGE THANK YOU to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy and the opportunity to read and review this delightfully dark tale.
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Dark and wonderful! I enjoyed every moment of it. I would say it's nice to read a more literary novel about the darker things. It was paced well and smart. I thought the execution was well mastered and interesting. I absolutely will be buying this book for my shelves.
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I loved everything about this book. Henderson has created a deliciously dark tale. It is haunting but also deeply human, which is what I think makes this book so good. The story is primarily about a young woman’s fight to change a system that would victimize her. It’s bold and moving. I could not put it down!
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Haunting, eerie, perfectly witchy debut that satisfied my mood in so many different ways. This is definitely creepier and darker than YA-level, which is why I'd be reluctant to describe it as such even if the romance is more of a slow burn/in the background element, and I love the sheer body horror descriptions of the Darkwood witches; some of those visuals are going to linger with me for a long time afterward. An engaging coming-of-age story, lots of fun worldbuilding, and a throughline of trying to topple the patriarchy in a way that feels immensely satisfying especially while reading with modern context in mind. I'm really looking forward to more from this author.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Immanuelle Moore isn't like the rest of the young women in Bethel. She's mixed-race and being raised by her grandmother. Not to mention the fact that her mother consorted with witches. When Immanuelle wanders too far into the menacing woods surrounding the town one day, she encounters one of these witches who hands over a journal written by Immanuelle's mother. As Immanuelle learns more about her heritage and past, a series of plagues descends on Bethel. With the help of unlikely ally Elijah, next in line to become religious leader of Bethel, Immanuelle does everything she can to save the village that has never quite accepted her and the family that has always treated her differently.

This novel takes the paradigm of the suppression of an evil theocracy and turns it on its head. There are abuses within the confines of power and oppressive systems in place, but it turns out the opposing force to that theocracy is no better. As a result, we end up with an impressive heroine and an unlikely hero joining together to change a system from the inside rather than burning that system down. I found this novel fast-paced, well plotted, and enjoyable. I would recommend this to any fantasy fan looking for a novel to keep them on the edge of their seats.
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The Year of the Witching has been described as a mix of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Vvitch/Salem, but I could honestly see many religious cults being used as a comparison here. Despite the easy comparisons (I would say loose comparisons), this book felt very unique and original.

This was a fascinating book, it is slow and quiet in a way, but filled with creepy scenery and almost more disturbing because of how lowkey it was. I do wish that the world building had been explained more, I was often confused by the magical stuff. So there’s the community, the outskirts, the forest that is run by zombie witches which people can’t go into, and then some vague backstory with the zombie witches/the cult founder. Some people have marks that identify them as witches but aren’t zombie witches but zombie witches might want them to join and become zombie witches and might brainwash people, and there’s census type information that could show that. And people get burnt at the stake for a lot of reasons. It felt both vague and confusing, but the vagueness could have been intended to add to the creepy vibe. Regardless, there could have been more of a balance between vague and mysterious as the character figures things out, and some concrete answers. 

 The book was written in a very old fashioned sense that fit the time period fit with the book, which at times did make the characters feel more distant, but suited the book and gave it a more mature voice. Despite the tonal distance, the author did a good job of describing how Immanuele started to turn away from the cult, starting out with someone with some quiet rebellious thoughts but still a member of the cult and still afraid to do anything not allowed by the cult.

 There are themes here of race (the main character is mixed race), misogyny, complex family dynamics, and of course, witchcraft and religion. Some of the themes could have been explored more in depth, but ultimately this was a satisfying and well thought out book that I will recommend to people.
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