In a year of impressive debut novels from horror authors, Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching rises to the top in more ways than one. The breathtaking, and often terrifying, novel is one that deserves to be savored, though the urge to devour it in one sitting is strong once you’ve begun reading.
Immanuelle Moore has walked between two worlds her entire life. She resides in a village called Bethel, a puritanical world ruled over by the Prophet whose word is absolute Law. Immanuelle’s mother, Miriam, was meant to be one of the Prophet’s many wives, but she fell in love with one of the dark-skinned citizens of the Outskirts. Their relationship ended in tragedy but also brought forth a daughter who has never been fully trusted or accepted due to the sins of her mother and the darkness of her skin.
Bethel is bordered by the Darkwood, a dense forest where, once upon a time, witches who worshiped the Dark Mother were slaughtered. The denizens of Bethel say the Darkwood is cursed, but Immanuelle finds herself drawn into its mysteries.
What follows has to be read to be believed.
A great deal of comparison has gone on since the novel’s announcement with reviewers relating the story to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Witch, and even Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. While those comparisons will no doubt help some readers decide whether they will settle in to read The Year of the Witching. I almost think that it does a disservice to the author’s vision.
Henderson’s writing is a thing of beauty. It is, at once, harrowing and seductive in ways that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, for example, has never quite attained. Where that show chose to broadly sexualize its characters almost by force, Henderson chose to give Immanuelle agency over her sexuality and ties an inherent power to her choices.
Furthermore, her protagonist never stoops to petulance, a quality that often becomes a crutch for authors writing younger women. Immanuelle has a strong mind and ideas that she is determined to see through and with a deadly theocratic ruler breathing down her neck, there is simply no time for tantrums and showboating.
This novel is a gripping work of fiction that deserves a place on every horror reader’s bookshelf. It isn’t only the writing, however, that sets it apart. It is the subject matter itself.
It is troubling that in the year 2020, having a black/biracial woman as a protagonist in a horror novel should feel so revolutionary. It is sad that having a woman protagonist who does not rely upon a male character to save her in a horror novel should feel like a breath of fresh air.
Yet both of these things are true, and because of that, The Year of the Witching often feels like lightning in a bottle. It has an energy that draws the reader in and casts a spell over us and keeps us on the edge of our seat as each new plague falls upon Bethel.
Blood. Blight. Darkness. Slaughter.
These are not just words. They are visceral experiences in Henderson’s capable hands.
If there is one way in which the novel falters, it comes in pacing toward the end. Immanuelle finds herself in several circular arguments with her grandmothers Martha and with Ezra, the handsome chosen heir of the Prophet with a rebellious streak.
While these arguments are certainly necessary to the plot, it felt as though there were times when Henderson was unsure how to end them. This does not hurt the story, but it does feel as though it trips over its own feet here and there.
Despite this, however, The Year of the Witching is an excellent read and a novel that will be on numerous best-of lists at the end of this year.
You can pre-order The Year of the Witching now by CLICKING HERE. The novel will release on July 21, 2020!