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.
I don’t usually read speculative, fantasy fiction but for some reason the Year Of The Witching had something appealing about it. I wasn’t sure if it was the topic of witches, or after reading the blurb, the parallels of men’s hold over women and the use of religious doctrines that intrigued me.
Whatever it was, it was a novel that I loved, that enthralled from the very first page and pulled me into the world of Immanuelle.
What can I say about Immanuelle! One of the bravest, strongest most determined young woman I have met in fiction. She had to live with her mothers past as a witch, the family that were stripped of their wealth, made to pay the price for her wrongdoings. Most women would keep their head down and just get on with life, but Henderson had other ideas for Immanuelle as she challenged the very core of Bethel, and the hold the Prophet and his Apostles held over its inhabitants.
The similarities to modern day cults were obvious, the use of scriptures, holy laws to ‘guide’ its people, the threat of contrition, imprisonment, punishment an axe that loomed large over their heads. Immanuelle, with the help of her mothers diary set out on a dangerous path that allowed Henderson to play with our imagination. She took us into the darkness of the Darkwood, and we felt the eerie chill of danger, saw the trio of witches that played with Immanuelle, attempted to draw her in, before a series of plagues descended on Bethel. The images that ran through my mind were just brilliant, as blood ran through the streams, the wells, the fields before darkness and finally the slaughter, the ultimate sacrifice.
Henderson gave Immanuelle an intelligence and maturity beyond her years as she battled the elements and the Prophet himself. Here was a man who believed in his own all encompassing power, that would stop at nothing to hold onto it, his abuse of young girls, his many wives that bore all the hallmarks of a cult leader at its worst. Yet Henderson pushed Immanuelle to her limits as she bargained with the Prophet, exposed his weakness and cowardice, putting herself in danger in the hopes of releasing Bethel from the grip of the plagues. Would the people of Bethel be behind her, or would they rail against her, afraid of recriminations, a blindness to the hold the Prophet had held over them? As per human nature there were those that doubted, that believed in the status quo, refused to believe in Immanuelle, bayed for her blood and you wondered if she would prevail or indeed survive.
The latter pages were full of drama, of sacrifice, you could hear the cacophony of noise fill you ear drums, the tension almost too much, and the imagery was fantastic.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, there were hints and glimmers of hope and a feeling of optimism, of a bond that formed between Immanuelle and Ezra, son of the Prophet, the heir to the throne. Their combined strength appeared to grow despite the obstacles put in their way, and you felt that they were the future of Bethel, that something more lay in wait.
I was very pleased to read that Henderson will be writing a sequel as I cannot wait to see what the future will have in store for our wonderful Immanuelle.
I would like to thank Bantam Press for a copy of The Year Of The Witching to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
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.
Her debut novel THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING will be published by Penguin Random House (US) and Penguin Books (UK) in summer 2020 with a sequel to come in 2021.