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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson - Review

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Early in 2023 I asked some of my closest friends what their favourite books of 2022 were, thinking I would give them a go. That way I get to read something that I wouldn't normally pick up. I like being forced out of my comfort zone by books, and this definitely was that. I would never have picked this up by myself but I really enjoyed it, so I'm calling this a win.

First of all, I can't decide when exactly this book is set. It's got a mediaeval witch hunting vibe to it, but the cult in question says it's existed for a thousand years, and it's not exactly mainstream religion, which would mean it isn't any of the more modern cults. I was expecting to find out, but in actuality I think it's set outside of our reality, but in a world which is all too recognisable if you know anything about religious cults. I actually liked that I didn't find out. The whole novel has a vibe of that film The Village by M Night Shyamalan, which I also liked, but I was expecting there to be a twist like in the film, and there wasn't. Oh well, I tried!

Anyway, Immanuelle is sixteen years old and lives with her grandparents, Martha and Abram, and Abram's second wife Anna, and their children, Honor and Glory. This would make Honor and Glory Immanuelle's aunts, but she calls them her sisters. They are both younger than her so I understand they've been raised as sisters, but even so, it annoyed me. Immanuelle's mother, Miriam, died in childbirth with Immanuelle. Immanuelle's father was Daniel Ward, someone who came from the Outskirts of the place Immanuelle lives, which is called Bethel. As the novel goes on it becomes clear that Daniel was Black and so are lots of people in the Outskirts, whereas everyone in Bethel is white. Miriam spent some time in the woods around Bethel while she was pregnant. She was adamant that she had lived in a cabin in the woods, but no one could ever find it. She was accused of witchcraft and of practicing witchcraft alongside the four witches who live in the woods: Lilith, Delilah, Jael, and Mercy. 

Immanuelle has always found herself drawn to the woods, even though she knows she must stay away from them. But she goes in, and meets the witches - the Lovers, Jael and Mercy, and then Delilah and Lilith. They give her her mother's journal, which contains details of Miriam's life, including the cabin she stayed in, and including portraits of Immanuelle's father. Immanuelle is scared by what she reads, especially because Miriam writes about four plagues which will hit Bethel. 

And then the first one does, a blood plague. All the water turns to blood, no one can drink. Crops fail. Immanuelle finally gets her monthly bleeding, which she's never got before. She knows how she can stop the curse, but she needs the help of Ezra. Ezra is the Prophet's son and heir, high up in Bethel's hierarchy. He has already given her a book and showed her that he's fond of her. This means that the Prophet is already wary of her. 

The Prophet is an old man, but he has many wives. This is partly where my confusion about when and where this book came from. There are mentions of the Father and the Holy Scriptures, but I don't think the religion is entirely meant to be Christianity, but I think it's supposed to reflect those ideals and history. It's so interesting! Immanuelle's friend, Leah, is chosen as the Prophet's new wife, and there is a huge ceremony in the cathedral for her. She is cut with the symbol of an 8 pointed star between her eyebrows, which shows her as a wife. Immanuelle tries to be happy for her friend, but then she discovers a secret about Leah and the Prophet... 

This book has a lot going on in it, and at the end I think it shows itself to be the perfect first novel in a trilogy. It's got an ending, but one which leads itself on to more, definitely. I would definitely read more set in this world as I really liked it - there isn't a lot of explanation which makes the reader extrapolate for themself which I like. It took me a bit of time to get into, but when I did I really got into it. I am giving this four out of five. 

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