Black and white cover of The Year of the Witching with a Black girl wearing a Puritan-style dress

About the Book

Title: The Year of the Witching
Published: 2020
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Windows to the Soul
BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia
Talky Talk: Paranormal Puritanical
Bonus Factor: Witches
Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grownups
Relationship Status: Scarred but not Scared

Content Warning: The Year of the Witching features child brides, men with multiple wives, and instances of suggested sexual assault, as well as themes of racism, sexism, and classism.

Cover Story: Windows to the Soul

This is a really beautiful cover, in a spooky way. But every time I look at it, it’s not long before I’m sucked in by the young woman’s eyes. Talk about captivating!

The Deal:

Imannuelle Moore has lived the entirety of her 16 years according to the rules of her very puritanical, very patriarchal society, keeping her head down and staying out of trouble. She knows she’s on thin ice as it is, as the illegitimate daughter of a frowned-upon union. But the Darkwood, the forest surrounding her community, the forest supposedly haunted by witches, calls to her—and Immanuelle isn’t sure she can resist the call …

BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

On the one hand, Immanuelle is great. She’s skirted the rules of her society as much as possible without raising suspicion, doing things like learning to read and learning to swim, both of which women in the community of Bethel aren’t supposed to do. She’s curious and stubborn, and probably the only young woman in her town who I’d have anything in common with. I’d love to cause secret trouble with her.

On the other hand, being Immanuelle’s friend would mean that I lived in Bethel, and that is 100%, completely, absolutely not OK with me. I’d probably never make it to 16; although I’m a rule follower, there are some rules that I couldn’t help myself from breaking.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Immanuelle doesn’t really think about the men of her town as marriage prospects, given her mixed race and her status as the daughter of an outsider and member of a disgraced family. But when a certain young man of high rank starts giving her the eye, she’s not exactly jumping to push him away. (How she can see any of the men in her town as worthy of her, however, is unclear to me.)

Talky Talk: Paranormal Puritanical

The Year of the Witching is not an easy read. It’s an ultimately hopeful story with a strong feminist bent, but the route it walks to get there is filled with the worst kind of themes, from a Prophet who rules with an iron fist and “serves” the community, yet has multiple wives and lives the life of a king, to blatant racism and classism and sexism. The history of the community is mired with the death of innocents, most of them women. Bethel is a terrifying place. And that’s before we get into the supernatural aspects, the witches who were killed generations ago and have since haunted the Darkwood. This is the kind of book that, were it actually supernatural, would drip with some sort of unnatural black ooze and cause you to have sensually spooky nightmares if you kept it in your bedroom. Henderson nailed it.

Bonus Factor: Witches

girl wearing black in a pointy witch hat

The witches in The Year of the Witching are creepy as eff. Lilith has a stag skull for a head, because hers was cut off at her death and replaced with said skull. Delilah crawls out of water like the girl from The Ring. And the Lovers—Jael and Mercy—are basically walking corpses, with joints that go the wrong way and sores and gore spilling out of open wounds. They’re horrifying, and yet … I appreciate how their ugliness is not their own fault; the people of Bethel who killed them all those many ages ago destroyed any sense of humanity they had.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grownups

Boxtrolls characters

The Prophet, the leader of Bethel, is so, so gross and the worst kind of religious leader. He has like 10 wives, and would likely keep taking more if he could. He preys on children and is a total lecher. He wants the community to worship him, in the guise of worshiping the Father (their god). He takes and takes and takes, without ever really giving back, although he sure acts like he gives everything to the community. THE WORST.

Relationship Status: Scarred but not Scared

Our date was much different than I expected, Book, and I ended the night peeking through my fingers with hands over my eyes. You surprised and shocked me, and I’m not sure I liked it. But I’d be willing to give us a go. Just don’t expect me to get down on my knees in prayer to the Father or give up reading, ’cause I’m not gonna do it.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Ace, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Year of the Witching is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband and their dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.