The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Publication Date: 21 July 2020
Genre: Paranormal Historical Fiction
A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
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.
Alexis Henderson’s debut novel The Year of the Witching immediately pulls you into its ominous setting—the rigid, puritanical society of Bethel where conformity is paramount and Immanuelle Moore’s mere existence is considered blasphemy. After Immanuelle ventures into the forbidden Darkwood and uncovers her mother’s past dealings with witches, she begins questioning the darkness lurking within her settlement’s pious veneer.
I was excited to receive a copy of this book through a Goodreads review (are you following me there yet?). It had been on my radar since I stumbled across an early mention of the novel, and I’m rarely one to turn down a witchy read (like Samantha Grosser’s Web of Wit series)!
Throughout the story, Henderson slowly reveals the horrors buried beneath Bethel’s surface. Naturally, the world within the book often turns to magick as one of these horrors. Unsurprisingly, the world within the book frequently turns to magick as one of these horrors. One character refers to witchcraft accordingly:
Once a sigil is made and a curse is cast, it’s done…the power that mark was made to represent lives on.
This becomes evident as we learn more about the Church’s insidious past and present. The message that “True evil…uttered prayers, not curses” resonates as Immanuelle—and the reader, by extension—realizes the truth.
My most notable concern with this book fell on a secondary character in The Year of the Witching: the witch Lilith. I know the Jewish community is largely uneasy with the “feminist retelling” of the mythic Lilith and, without the cultural background myself, I’d need to know more to be confident that there weren’t through-lines of appropriation in what otherwise comes off as an incredible read.
Reading like a dark fairytale in its own right, The Year of the Witching will immerse you in its mysterious, shadowy world. Immanuelle makes for an engaging heroine as she awakens to the injustices around her and uncovers secrets that turn her world upside down in Henderson’s engrossing feminist fantasy debut. I’m excited to see where she takes us next within the world of Bethel!
About the Author
Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, you can find her painting or watching horror movies with her feline familiar. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.