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Bethel #1

The Year of the Witching

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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.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published July 21, 2020

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About the author

Alexis Henderson

5 books2,152 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,087 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,064 reviews38k followers
November 12, 2022
Handmaid’s Tale meets Salem: Born of rebellious feminist resistance by a girl who is branded as cursed because of her mother’s sins and facing the dark powers to make definite and concrete changes at the dystopian, puritanical, secluded society consisted of hypocrisy, ignorance, illogical and unfair laws.

This is another terrifying, fist clenching, soul shivering, mind crushing, heart pounding, forehead sweating, edgy, spooky, bleak, dark journey take you to the dark woods to face the four witches are ready to haunt you in your dreams and place a quite irritating thoughts inside your brains.

Immanuelle Moore kept her silence for years, trying to stay head above the water, living at the outskirts with her disgraced family because her mother’s disobedience ruined their family name, suffering from poverty, obeying the rules of their community. Prophet’s each word is the law because he’s holly man even though he is the pure definition of sexual predator seduces under aged girls and having a heavenly polygamous marriage life (Prophet reminds of a mean and ruthless cult leader but as the society keeps the silence and obeys the rules nothing can go wrong!?)

Immanuelle acts like she adapts in her outcast life till the day she takes the attention of Prophet’s charming son Ezra and gets lost in the dark woods she is forbidden to enter because there are so many stories about that spooky place. Once you enter, you never come back intact. She may share the same faith with her mother who ran into the woods and lost her mind completely after giving her birth, losing her life. But as soon as she takes her first step to the haunted place, she encounters with four witches who offer her mother’s journal filled with her impressions about the witches and dark woods. The passages at the journal are mind bending and ominous telling her upcoming apocalypse. There are four phases: BLOOD, BLIGHT, DARKNESS, SLAUGHTER.

As those four phases start to occur, Immanuelle tries to find a way to save the society even though it may coast her own life but what if her sacrifice doesn’t change anything? What if the government system they accepted and the holly rules declared by their Prophet were corrupted, distorted and unhealthy for those women’s lives who have been massacred without fair judgment. Sometimes to build something new, you need to tear down everything apart!

This is more revolutionist, reformist and outstandingly brave and powerfully feminist dystopian story! This is about a young woman’s fight to change the system, not to be victimized, harassed, abused by the men who used the law and religion to justify their wrongdoings. It’s bold, moving and fascinating.

I have to warn you about last 30 pages! It is really intense, dark and terrifying! But I liked the promising, hopeful conclusion that also may be considered as a sign of sequel.

I’m giving my five impressed, mesmerized stars and I’m clapping the debut authorAlexis Henderson for her brilliant work.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing/Ace for sharing this intriguing ARC in exchange my honest review.

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Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
163 reviews694 followers
February 26, 2021
Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews.

I once read that the key to happiness is to lower one’s expectations in life. That the feeling of happiness is often more dependent upon whether life is better than originally hoped, rather than how well one’s life is flowing along overall. (Or something to that effect.)

True statement? False? I do not know.

But I am wondering if from this point forward, I should apply this theory to all future books I read and just squash any preliminary anticipation as a matter of routine. Perhaps I should assume that every book I choose to read will be dreadful – and then when one is not, I will love it even more dearly.

Because had my expectations for Alexis Henderson’s debut novel, The Year of the Witching been lower (or at least, more accurate), I suspect I would be writing a more positive review than the one I am about to write. Yet again, my hopes got the best of me.

Sixteen-year-old Immanuelle Moore lives a relatively quiet life in the lands of Bethel. As all women in the settlement, she is obedient to the word of the Prophet. She dutifully worships the Father and conforms to Holy Protocol. The product of a scandalous love affair between her mother and an outsider, she wishes to do nothing that would bring further disgrace to her family.

Until one day she is drawn into the Darkwood, the cursed forest that surrounds Bethel. There, she encounters the spirits of four dead witches who were killed inside the forest walls years ago by the very first Prophet. They present Immanuelle with the gift of her dead mother’s diary, who Immanuelle is surprised to learn once sheltered in the forest and bargained with the witches.

Grappling to make peace with the truths revealed by the diary, Immanuelle slowly begins to uncover the harsh reality of the history of the Church. The time for change has come – and for the sake of Bethel, Immanuelle will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the archaic, injurious rule of the Prophet and the Church is permanently transformed.

Unfortunately, The Year of the Witching and I started off on the wrong foot. It has been billed to readers as a Dark Fantasy/Horror novel for adults. To quote from the blurb, it is “The Handmaid’s Tale for a new generation.” Therefore, when I agreed to review it, I believed I was in store for a mature, feminist, witchy read. But it took no more than 20 pages for me to realize that while feminist and witchy, what I was instead reading was a Young Adult novel, with the typical YA tropes, lack of writing depth, and unnecessary teenage romance.

Call me disappointed, to say the least.

And I like YA. I have nothing against YA. Some of my favorite series are YA. (Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series, Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy, Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, to name a few.)

Again, it’s all about the expectation. Had the marketing not been skewed and inaccurate for The Year of the Witching, I would have read its pages with the correct mindset and not felt so disgruntled from the start.

But even after I adjusted my reading approach and shed my discontent, I still did not enjoy the beginning chunk of the novel. I came THISCLOSE to DNFing it – and here’s why:

First, the societal system of Bethel is extremely simplistic and unoriginal (men = good, women = bad; light skin = good, brown skin = bad). Secondly, the novel’s characterization is flat, and Immanuelle, particularly, is bland and unremarkable. Thirdly, Henderson’s writing is a bit heavy-handed with the horror elements in the opening chapters, as if she is trying so hard to be terrifying and grotesque. Lastly, there are numerous scenes of violence against animals and overabundant images of blood and gore. It’s a tad bit too much.

Then unexpectedly at around the halfway mark, Henderson gradually loosens the reins on the narrative, eases up on the horrific aspect of her writing, and gives the narrative room to breathe. And just like that, quick as a finger snap, The Year of the Witching rebounds and becomes a somewhat engrossing, entertaining read. But the memory of the rough start is not easily shaken.

I will say, Henderson certainly knows how to create a memorable setting and atmosphere. Bethel and the Darkwood are vividly depicted on the page; the greenery, the villages, the cathedrals are all brought to life through her writing. Her prose is graceful and lyrical. And despite occasional instances of repetitive phrasing and vocabulary choice, there are moments of true beauty in her words.

If only Henderson, however, had thought to put the same amount of effort into writing her characters as she did into setting the scene. As I mentioned earlier, the characterization in The Year of the Witching is sorely inadequate and lacking in depth. It is difficult to care for or feel concern for the welfare of anyone in the novel. Immanuelle, the Prophet, Ezra (the obligatory love interest), the secondary characters . . . they are all as insubstantial as cut-out dolls.

And the witches of the Darkwood – they are so paper thin and flimsily drawn that they are not in any way frightening. They come across as hokey, cartoonish caricatures at best.

Furthermore, for being cast as the heroine of the story, Immanuelle is unmemorable and insipid. She has moments of incongruent behavior and inconsistent thoughts. Sometimes she seems older than her age; sometimes she forgets and relearns information that she was previously told ten pages prior. Immanuelle also conveniently solves mysteries, finds answers to her questions, and learns the ways of magic at precisely the right time, every time. It’s too effortless.

In the end, The Year of the Witching does claw its way to the top, proving itself to be an enjoyable enough, compelling enough YA read. But it is not the second coming of The Handmaid’s Tale. (No. Not even close.) My recommendation to read it is given with many, many attached reservations.

(Psst! Read Katherine Arden’s gorgeous Winternight Trilogy instead. Or better yet – just read The Handmaid’s Tale.)


I received an Advanced Readers Copy from Edelweiss and Ace in exchange for an honest review. All opinions included herein are my own.

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Profile Image for Arini ~ Miss Casually Reading.
666 reviews1,497 followers
August 1, 2020
4.5 Stars

Holy shh—Mother of Witches, this book is going straight to my TOP READS OF 2020 list!!!!!



I know, bold statement. I might be tempted to revoke my claim later, but for now can we talk about how bloody PHENOMENAL and REVOLUTIONARY this terrifying wtichy culty puritanical tale is???? Yes, this book is the sh*t I want everyone to rave about.

This is the story of a cursed child born and raised into a society ruled by (holy) men who abuse their power and hide under the protective blanket of law and religion to absolve them of any wrongdoings.

Bethel is a secluded community where the Prophet’s power is absolute and polygamy is the norm. It’s surrounded by the Darkwood, home of Lilith and her coven of witches whose tragic history many years prior led to their condemnation.



We follow Immanuelle, with the help of the Prophet’s son who is skeptical of his father’s teachings and beliefs, Ezra, trying to save the townspeople from an impending doom, a revenge curse casted by the witches and accidentally activated by Immanuelle herself.

Blood, blight, darkness, slaughter.

While doing so, we are exposed to the many injustices against women and just how corrupted the Prophet and his league of apostles are. There are themes of race, gender, poverty, complex family dynamics, witchcraft, and religion blended into the story.

One of the many emotions that burns inside of me when reading books like this is RAGE. Not towards the book, but towards all the horrible characters who invoke my sense of solidarity towards those they’ve wronged, especially the women. Burn, let them burn!!!



My rating is purely selfish (driven by my love for Ezra 🙈). The last 30% was nail bitingly intense. The fate of our characters hanged in the balance. I was ready to raise hell and make sure the rating would suffer just as much if anything were to happen to him.

My rating also doesn’t mean that the book is perfect. In fact, there are a few things that maybe weigh more to you—from the slightly generic characterisation to the incomplete world building and magic system. All that aside, this book restored my faith in YA.

To be a woman is to be a sacrifice.

The Year of the Witching is a gripping and powerful debut filled with horror and macabre recommended for fans of dark (feminist) fantasy, religious cults, and witches tearing down the patriarchy. Forget my poor attempt at a review and go read the book!!!!

(Read as an Audiobook)
Profile Image for jessica.
2,475 reviews29.6k followers
August 24, 2020
i feel like this is one of those books where you either really love it or it just isnt for you. and being that my fatal flaw is indecisiveness, im right down this middle with this one.

there are a lot of good things about this - the relevant themes, the relatable characters, and the easy-going writing. i like how this is set in a very distant and dated world, but so much of the story applies to reality. i love immanuelle as a character and i appreciate that she had a determined strength to her, but is also kind and thoughtful. i feel like i dont see enough of this combination in books. i also like her interactions with ezra and enjoy their narrative.

that being said, this potentially could have benefited with a few more revisions. the world-building surrounding the witches seems to be lacking and the descriptions of the cities are confusing (this definitely could use a map). because of this, i felt myself focusing more on the side plot of the cult-like society and its leaders within the town, rather than the main plot of the witches and the curses from beyond. i also feel like this could have improved by embracing a more adult storytelling, as i think the YA vibes hold the story back from its full potential.

so some good and some not so good but, overall, this is a pretty decent debut!

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books426 followers
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February 6, 2022
“Good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. Good people are not complicit.”

So What’s It About?

The small country of Bethel lives by the Prophet’s law: submission, purity, piety and conformity are the rule, and Immanuelle’s mere existence is proof of her mother’s sin. She tries to live a pious life but the ominous Darkwood calls with its promises of another world. The witches that once plagued Bethel are said to reside there still, waiting for a chance to take their revenge on the Prophet that doomed them. When Immanuelle wanders in the Darkwood she discovers secrets that never should have been uncovered, and what follows is plague of plagues that will doom Bethel unless she can stop it. But as secrets come unraveled Immanuelle must decide: does Bethel deserve to be saved?

CW for sexual violence.


What I Thought

This is a 2.5 star rating at best. I feel terrible about that because I feel terrible about disliking any book that isn’t outright malicious in content but…here we are, gang. I did not really think this was very good. Positives first, though! I did love all the witchiness involved, as I do with any book where witchiness is involved. The ominous Darkwood was oozing with atmosphere and the four original witches (Lilith, Delilah, Jael and Mercy) were suitably creepy every time they showed up. Each of the plagues was horrible in its own way and all of the story’s atmosphere and imagery were oppressive and eerie.

I also love the message that Henderson was going for here. A Puritan-inspired fantasy is a fresh idea and I appreciate her argument that women’s sacrifices in the name of duty and purity are at the heart of Puritan Christianity. She makes it clear that patriarchy is often masked by benevolence, its ugly hypocrisy hidden as men like the Prophet pretend holy authority but use their power to abuse women. It was also infuriatingly accurate that the Prophet frantically tried to hid this reality of his horrible actions by turning himself into a martyr unfairly persecuted malevolent women. (Witchunt, anyone?)

Bethel’s society is one with a massive sexual double standard where women are characterized as inherently sinful and scapegoated for every problem, especially if they don’t or can’t comply to rigid gendered expectations of purity and duty. There is an exploration of intersectionality in Immanuelle’s experience as a biracial woman in a racist and sexist society; I really enjoyed the sections of the story that focused on the people of color living in the Outskirts a lot.

So this is all great, absolutely! The problem is that the more I think about how Henderson tried to make these points and how often they got muddied by her own text I’m left feeling that this book could have been executed much more successfully. One of my biggest problems is that I’m always going to doubt the feminist merits of a book that largely revolves around a luekwarm protagonist’s romance with a dude who makes most of the plot happen to the vast detriment of her relationships with other women in the story. I’ll break it down for you:

Lukewarm protagonist. I never really got a solid sense of Immanuelle as a character, to be honest. A huge part of this is that I didn’t buy her transformation from a conformist good girl to a witchy rebel. She moves from passive to reactive to active with not much internal growth to match it, so it was not a compellingly or convincingly written psychological process to me. I think it would have been much for effective for her to start out the story already rebellious and chafing under Bethel’s constraints.

There are a few other points where she was characterized unsatisfyingly – at one point towards the end the narration said that Immanuelle’s family had “always been her weakness” and I was like…”Okay, since when?” I don’t feel that Henderson did the work necessary to make me believe in Immanuelle’s emotions towards her family at all and that statement more or less came out of nowhere to me (as did a certain family member’s death).

Dude who makes most of the plot happen in this feminist novel. LOTS of people complained about Ezra on my Goodreads updates for this book, and I think I’m going to disappoint some of you by saying that there’s nothing especially awful about him as a character personality-wise because, as with most characters in this book, I never got a really strong sense of his personality. I mostly just take issue with his role in the story instead.

I mean, he spends a significant amount of the story mansplaining oppression to Immanuelle despite the fact that he’s the second-most elite white man in this racist and sexist society and she’s a biracial woman. She relies on him so much – Ezra gets her the books she needs, Ezra gets her the warrant and wagon she needs, etc. And even more than that she spends a large part of this feminist tale of coming to terms with society’s unfairness and malecentriticy thinking about Ezra and how she feels about him. That doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Paucity of relationships with other women in the story. I liked her cool cross-dressing lesbian grandma and how Immanuelle came to terms with her mother’s decisions, as well as the ultimate resolution to the conflict with her utra-Puritan mother figure whose name I’ve forgotten, but other than these aspects of the story there wasn’t very much emphasis on female relationships here. Immanuelle’s “best friend” just popped up every once and a while to talk about marrying the Prophet and getting sexually abused by him and then dying in childbirth. This is a thing I’ve noticed in a few other books recently, with The Poppy War being one prominent example – authors want to address Violence Against Women but they don’t want do the work of developing deep female relationships or characters (outside of the protagonist in some cases) so there’s just a random girl in the story whose entire purpose is to get raped and then talk about that and that alone, usually before dying tragically and then rarely being thought of again. Not really a fan of that, actually.

Imagine this: there’s a secret coven of female rebels in Bethel who find strength and sisterhood together and come to terms with their experiences of sexism and abuse while planning to change their society. They take refuge in each other’s friendship and love and reclaim the tales and magics of powerful witches past to overthrow the Prophet together.

And imagine this: Immanuelle and best friend are actually in love and it’s through their continued relationship after she is married to the Prophet that we come to learn even more about the truth of Bethel’s injustices. Immanuelle secretly comes to visit her and she’s able to play a similar role in the story as Ezra, providing Immanuelle access to the Prophet’s secret materials and the items that she needs over the course of the story. Also she doesn’t die and she doesn’t just exist to talk about being raped and she and Immanuelle live happily ever after!!!!!!

CAN YOU IMAGINE? WOULDN’T YOU READ THE HELL OUT OF THAT? But no. No. Instead the story revolved around boring mansplainer Ezra and Immanuelle’s inexplicable feelings for him. It’s tragic, honestly, when I think about how incredibly mediocre it ended up being when it could have been so powerful instead.

There are a few other points where I just feel like Henderson sabotaged her own great message. For one thing I kept expecting it to be revealed that the original four witches weren’t actually evil; instead, the religion’s founder simply scapegoated the four powerful magical women and drove them from the society so that he could instate his own patriarchal law instead. But… no, the witches actually ended up being evil and a huge part of the book’s finale involved defeating them. It seems jarring to try to convey this message about the Church being built on lies and oppression but nevertheless have them be entirely right about these witches at the cornerstone of its mythology being iredeemably evil. Like, it is absolutely implied that they were warped into being that way because of how they were treated but even with that in mind it just felt so tonally discordant for them to be killed in an epic battle right before the Prophet was defeated.

Immanuelle was also really inconsistent in how she viewed Bethel as a society. Sometimes she seemed to believe that Bethel was corrupt to the core – the land and its religion were fundamentally rooted in oppression, lies and hatred and there was no way of redeeming that. But then a couple of chapters later the book’s happy ended was simply that everything was going to be fine because Ezra took over as the Prophet. Hmmm. The point of the story up until then wasn’t that the previous Prophet was simply one bad man who abused his power – the argument seemed to be that Bethel’s power structure was inherently wrong and abusive as a whole. That ending seemed to spit in the face of everything else the book was trying to say. I simply cannot believe that exchanging one bad man in power for a good man in power is enough to justify a happy ending, even if that good man’s plan is to start reforming his society.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,363 reviews9,422 followers
January 17, 2021
UPDATE: $1.99 Kindle US 1/17/21

This book just wasn’t for me. I will tell you the audio version is wonderful so I would recommend listening to it. The cover of this book is beautiful! I wished I loved it just so I could add the hardcover to my collection!!

I also loved the writing style, I would like to read more of this authors future books because of this reason alone!

Happy Reading!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾

BLOG: https://melissa413readsalot.blogspot....
Profile Image for Debra .
2,124 reviews34.9k followers
July 6, 2020
"Love is an act of loyalty."

Immanuelle Moore, raised by her Grandparents and bearing her grandfather's last name bears the shame of being a child out of wedlock, a child with dark powers, a child that follows the rules but has a destiny that will affect them all.

"To be a woman is to be a sacrifice."

Growing up in the town of Bethel, where the Prophet rules, Immanuelle tries to follow the father, she tries to worship, be devoted, submissive and conform as all the women of the village do. Until one day, fate brings her into the Darkwood, a forbidden place where the spirits of dead witches live, witches who give her a journal that once belonged to her Mother....

BLOOD... BLIGHT...DARKNESS....SLAUGHTER

And we're off on another dark and magnificent witch ride dystopian style. Grab those brooms and fly away to the wondrous dark world that Alexis Henderson has created. Immanuelle is a strong and brave character who will not be a victim, even when knocked down she will fight, she is loyal, she is strong and she is ready to take on the powers that be.

I found this to be a very fast engrossing read which had me on the edge of my seat, not wanting to put this down. The ending was intense (who can see this being made into a movie?) Plus, I'm with other reviewers feel/want/hope for a sequel. Readers are not left hanging at the end of this book and yet, I wanted more!

Besides having a riveting story-line, this book is full of beautiful passages such as:

"Sometimes I wonder if my secrets are better swallowed than spoken. Perhaps my truths have done enough harm. Perhaps I should take my memories to the grave and let the dead judge my sins."

I love a good witch tale and was not disappointed. Fans of witches, dystopian tales, dark tales, beautiful writing and strong female protagonists look no further.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for S.A. Chakraborty.
Author 11 books8,928 followers
January 2, 2020
I tore through this book in a single day. It's the exact kind of witchy tale I've been looking for. The kind of achingly tense, terrifying atmosphere you get in horror with the "tear it all down" politics of today's best fantasy. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Marzuqa.
63 reviews55 followers
January 8, 2021
So. Horribly. Awesome!
Didn’t think I could love something so grotesque. But this was such a fabulous story and so fast paced, I flew through it. It had me hooked from start to finish.
This wasn’t particularly horrifying for me but was surely morbid, dark and grim. But hey, it’s a book of witches! Save the grisly details, I really enjoyed every part of this book.
I loved the characters and totally ship Immanuelle and Ezra.
I’m so glad this wasn’t another disappointment of 2020.
July 22, 2020
Year of the Witching is a dark feminist fantasy and not one I would have picked up on my own. I decided to download this one after it was mentioned in the sister group, and I read it with my reading sister Debra. I am so glad I read this one and had Debra to discuss this one with.

I often get lost when reading stories with fantasy or supernatural elements to the story, so it took a while to get into this one, and I had to go back and reread some parts. Once I got into the flow of it, I couldn't put down my kindle until I was done reading it. After reading and thinking about this one, I began to realize the depth to the story.

Alexis Henderson brilliantly blends horror, a paranormal dark, twisty witchy tale set the dystopian world of Bethel where the Prophet makes the rules everyone must follow. She weaves in real-world themes like racism, oppression, power and religion. The Prophet uses fear, cruelty and religion to gain power and control over the people.

Our main character Immanuelle is a strong realistic character here with her traits and development. She starts off vulnerable and flawed by her Mother's choices and lives in the shadows. She grows into a multi-layered strong character with conflicts of her own and ones she must overcome to save her family, community and home. Not only is Immanuelle a complex, fascinating character, the dynamics between her and the other characters are also.

The setting is haunting beautiful and creepy that adds a deliciously bleak and eerie feel to the story with the danger that lurks in the Darkwoods.

With every page, the tension rises to that exciting climate of a showdown between the characters, and I was gripping my kindle hoping no one would bother me till I was done. This is an impressive story, and like no other, I have read. I highly recommend it.

I received a copy from the publisher on NetGalley
Profile Image for h.
640 reviews182 followers
May 9, 2020
The Year of the Witching was pitched as being inspired by The VVitch, so perhaps it's on me for allowing my expectations to climb sky-high due to the association with one of my favorite movies of all time. The VVitch is disturbing and unsettling and claustrophobic; The Year of the Witching is standard YA fantasy fare, and this despite the fact that it is not YA fantasy, but adult.

Immanuelle is a character I struggled to get a grasp on, and perhaps that is because she is so...generic, almost as though, rather than an actual person, she's just a stand-in and mouthpiece for the various themes and ideas about gender and race that are heavy-handedly hammered through the narrative with zero subtlety. Similarly, the love interest, Ezra was milquetoast and bland; how convenient it is that despite his upbringing in this super patriarchal world he's magically a Good Guy and Rational Thinker. His romance with Immanuelle felt completely shoehorned into a narrative where it didn't belong.

There are some brief scenes and lines where the narrative starts to verge on horror, but these are few and far between, so the book as a whole never quite gets there, never reaches that apex of dread that The WWitch manages so easily. Oddly, the stakes never felt high enough, even though the stakes are literally death by plagues, but maybe this is just because I didn't care about any of the characters very much.

The main thing this book has going for it is its readability; I sped through it and generally enjoyed my time reading it, even if I had issues and was sorely disappointed. The writing is fine, the plot comes together just fine, and it's a decent enough book, but it had so much unused potential, discarded in exchange for standard fare YA romance and a generic protagonist. But part of this is on me, for having some very specific expectations, and I can't blame the book for not meeting those, since it is clearly aiming to be something very different from what I had expected. Since it was successful in fulfilling its own aims and it never bored me, it gets a 2.5 star rating from me!
Profile Image for monica kim.
202 reviews6,068 followers
February 6, 2021
imagine if the new sabrina series followed prudence instead of sabrina. that’s the year of the witching. anyways, this story felt so fresh and is truly a perfect autumn read. it’s deliciously spooky and eerie, definitely akin to the creepier parts of the new sabrina series.

i do think it’s weird that people don’t think this is horror?? not every horror novel needs to scare the pants off of you to be part of the genre - have yall never read gothic horror or classics like dracula??
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,560 reviews5,816 followers
August 4, 2020
ETA: I'm changing the rating I gave this book from a 3 to at least a 4 because I just can't get it out of my head.
I'm feeling all kinds of ways about this book. I'm just gonna high light the stuff I liked and hated. You can go read the blurb or another review if you want to know more of what the actual book is about.

Liked list:
Witches!! Some of my very favorite things.

These witches aren't the kind that just want a boyfriend either. These are some dark heifers.

It's very readable. I liked the storyline and I actually liked the main characters. It's set in a secluded village that you are not allowed to leave.
But our girl of course wanders into the dark forbidden forest.


Where she meets guess what?? Witches!!! Okay so I just love witches. Let's move on.

She gets her dead mother's journal from one of those witches and learns that her little town is in for a hot mess. She starts kinda poking around and realizes that she might have to be the one to save the town. I do not know if I would bother because to be honest...the town is full of turds and a crazy ass preacher man.

This stuff was all my cup of tea.

Then the stuff I didn't like.


I know. I bitch about politics in books all the time. I really try and pick books that are not filled with them. I mean damn. The last few years have been shit. Especially this year. I just want to read to fill my mind with fluff. If you can tell I'm not out to be the smartest fart in town and I'm not looking to change that award winning status.

Anyways, I went with a three. It's a good book. I ain't hating.

Booksource: Netgalley in exchange for review.
Profile Image for Lucy.
411 reviews594 followers
October 13, 2020
”The Maiden will bear a daughter, they will call her Immanuelle, and she will redeem the flock with wrath and plague.”

4.5***** rounded up.

This book was fucking amazing! This delivered witchy, twisty and dark themes that I absolutely thrive on. This tackled themes of family, belonging, oppression, misogyny and race as well.

Previous reviews to this compared it to “The Handmaids Tale” and as much as I thought that book was great, it was a very uncomfortable read and I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to delve into that again. However, maybe as this book had fantasy elements I wasn’t as uncomfortable reading it.

In this book, we follow Immanuelle who is from Bethel, a closed off community reminiscent of films of “The Village” whereby there is religious fanaticism. Here the religion (which is cult like) is very patriarchal and everyone is taught to fear the Darkwood (the woods bordering Bethel) and the witches that reside within. Anyone who goes into the woods either does not come back or goes so crazy that there is no helping them.
Immanuelle tries to follow holy protocol and confess all her sins, however, she is lured into the forbidden Darkwood where she is gifted a diary from the woods inhabitants. This diary is written by her long deceased mother and immanuelle is fascinated but also frightful of the confessions of her mother and her consort with the witches.
When bad things begin to descend on Bethel and it’s inhabitants, it is up to Immanuelle to try to put a stop to them with the use of the diary. Here she must face the truth of Bethel and it’s Church and Prophet, as well as the truth of her own history and roots.

This book was uncomfortable in relation to its heavy patriarchal themes and religious fanaticism to justify the horrible treatment of women. There are elements of sexual assault,peadophilia and torture in this book.

I absolutely adored the darkness of the witches and the forbidden Darkwood in this. This had witchcraft, sigils and just quite weird and dark encounters going on. This book read like a horror movie (but a good one) which had me thinking of “The Village” and “The Witch”.

Immanuelle is a great character and toward the beginning she reminded me of Belle from Beauty and the Beast: she is an outcast, she goes to the market to sell her sheep only to get sidetracked with wanting to read the books which someone peddles into the market, reading (especially by a woman) is frowned upon, etc. the bookworm in her made me love her even more. We also get to see her character develop and when the whole world seems dead set against her, she just pushes back and tries to love and forgive them anyway.

This book is not a fast paced book (hence the small deduction in rating). I also hoped that the ending would give me more “silent Hill” (the movie) than the ending that actually happened, but it was still good. This was slow-paced but alluring with its dark themes.

Throughout this book I constantly had the song “Season of the Witch” replaying through my mind.

”Blood. Blight. Darkness. Slaughter.”
Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,248 followers
June 9, 2021
Well wasn’t this the historical horror/fantasy story that we’ve all been secretly craving?? A dark and twisting novel about religion, patriarchal structures, othering and reclaiming your power, The Year of the Witching was quite a debut from author Alexis Henderson.



Immanuelle has lived in Bethel all her life. Isolated from the rest of the world, her repressive religious town is surrounded by a sinister forest known as the Darkwood, where no person is permitted to enter. And nobody has, not since Immanuelle’s mother disappeared years ago before coming back heavily pregnant with her. Orphaned after her mother’s passing in childbirth and her father’s execution, Immanuelle has always felt the darkness of the woods calling to her, no matter what the Prophet says. And now that she’s found her mother’s diary, she’s ready to explore the pieces of herself that she’s long kept hidden away.

This is a fantasy that’s different than most others I’ve read in the genre. It’s definitely an adult fantasy, so keep that in mind when making comparisons, but I feel like it still had a differing tone. Much of the plot moves like historical fiction, likely based on a specific historical time period (I am bad at identifying stuff like this), even though this world is an invented one. The inhabitants of Bethel are terrified of all things magical and actively shun it. So the only time that Immanuelle is able to access magic is primarily when she ventures outside of her community. As a result, I think many of the non-magic portions of the book felt slower comparatively, which led to an uneven pacing at times.





I do think it was a beautifully atmospheric novel featuring feminist themes, so of course I was going to pick it up. I’ll probably continue with the series too, whenever the next book is announced. I’m really curious to see how Henderson expands on this world because it’s been very self-contained so far, and there’s a lot of potential for exploration here.


**For more book talk & reviews, follow me on Instagram at @elle_mentbooks!
Profile Image for Misty Marie Harms.
559 reviews277 followers
January 18, 2022
In the city of Bethal the prophet is law. The scriptures are the rules to live by. Immanuelle Moore was born into this world after her mother died giving birth to her after running off into the Darkwoods. Her father being burnt on the pyre for his sins, she is left to the mercy of her family. All her life she has been told to stay out of the Darkwood, the forest surrounding the city, where evil and the souls of the witches live. Years later, Immanuelle is lured into the woods, starting a bloody chain of plaques onto the land. She has to find a way to stop the plaques and the prophet before it is too late.

I hated the ending of this book. That is why it only got four stars. Immanuelle is better than I. I would have left all their butts to die. I am petty like that. I might have saved my man depending on how I felt about that day.
Profile Image for Holly (Holly Hearts Books).
366 reviews3,020 followers
July 22, 2020
"The forest is sentient in a way man is not. She sees with a thousand eyes and forgets nothing."

Gothic, dark, bloody, and sinister. The Year of the Witching is a non stop horror thrill ride from the very first pages. It is just twisted enough to make you fall in love with all of the madness. So, should you read it? Here is my answer! All the pros, cons, and my personal opinion discussed in this video.
https://youtu.be/4cG3nu4Slcw
Profile Image for Kay ❦.
1,879 reviews581 followers
September 27, 2022
-3.5 ⭐-
This book is a very modern 2020 witchy tale. I find this book to be entertaining and I love the dark forest atmosphere. As I read, I thought of the movie The VVitch -not just a family but a whole town. Men are good (light) while women are widely condemned (darkness).

The villain is an old pedo Prophet with many wives, a fraud in the name of the Father. One of many ways for young girls to remove sin is to become his bride (chuckles at the hypocrisy). You know what, it's fine! After all, it's dark fantasy. If you're a male with sin, then you're sh!t out of luck, into the pyre you go.

The author said this book fills in that gap between YA and adult, a crossover so I was hoping for a dark, disturbing, and scary read. It left me wanting a little more. The Year of the Witching is totally a YA book. If your heroine who "saves the world" is 16 years old... to me that's YA.
Profile Image for Kezia Duah.
356 reviews220 followers
February 11, 2022
“True evil wore the skin of good men. It uttered prayers, not curses. It feigned mercy where there was only malice. It studied scriptures only to spit out lies.”- This quote sums up the book. I could just leave it here, but let’s be realistic.

This was dark! I’m not really that religious, but I might need some holy cleansing after this.

Our main character, Immanuelle, is sort of an odd one in the Bethel society because of many things, including her race and her mother’s reputation. For some reason though, she still really loves Bethel and does what she feels needs to do when the society goes through plagues. She discovers things about herself that could help save Bethel. What is Immanuelle’s role in saving Bethel?

The prophet….man I hated that man with every fiber of my being. When a society or a community perceives one as the leader, how far are they manipulated into thinking that he’s allowed to do wrong with no consequences? Abuse of power was a heavy theme in this one and it really did hurt to read. How does Bethel expose the hypocrisy of the prophet and all who stand by him?

This is also a puritanical society so we do get a lot of Biblical themes. We get the classic “When a man sleeps with a woman, it’s obviously the woman’s fault for tempting him" because men apparently can’t make their own decisions. There are more guys, so be prepared for a lot of eye-rolling. Also, the cruel punishments jeeeeez. I loved how Bethel and Ezra question many of these beliefs.

We get a lot of other characters as well. Some that stood out to me were Leah, a good friend who is betrothed to the prophet; Ezra, a son of the prophet, who helps her in discovering Bethel’s secrets; and Martha and Vera, her grandmothers who both play a big role in Immanuelle’s character development. Of course, we can't forget Miriam, Immanuelle’s mother, who dabbles in some really dark stuff that comes back to affect Immanuelle.

The imagery of this book was amazing!!! I could literally picture everything, as dark and disturbing as they were, in my head. As much as I loved it, it felt like Henderson focused more on this aspect than giving us more in the plot. The story was amazing, but I just needed MORE. I can’t explain it exactly, just know that I needed MORE.

I believe Henderson decided to not continue with the sequel for this and decided to start a new project. I wouldn't have minded another book, but this ending was satisfying enough to definitely not need another one. I look forward to seeing more of the darkness that Henderson obviously has a talent for.




Profile Image for EmBibliophile.
460 reviews1,010 followers
August 30, 2020
3.75 stars

Before I read this book, I had no idea what it was about. I just know two things that made me want it; that it has witches and it got such an aesthetic beautiful cover. And I was sold!

This was such an enjoyable book to read. Starting from the gothic atmosphere, the sinister dark vibe, the relevant theme, the feminism, the cute love story, and the relatable realistic topics. I really liked both the main characters, even though they were kinda basic, I was still cheering for them the whole time. The pacing was so good making the book so readable.

My only little complain is that I would’ve preferred if it was an adult book. In my opinion, being a YA book prevented it from reaching its full potential. I’m not saying it wasn’t good, I just think it could’ve been more. And even though this was so atmospheric, the world building was kinda lacking as well. Overall, this was a really decent debut.

Song recommendation:
Bad moon rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
A little wicked by Valerie Broussard
Seven devils by Florence + The machine
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews276 followers
February 13, 2021
“she dreamed of scarecrow witches burning like torches in the night, tangled limbs and stolen kisses. in her nightmares, she saw the lovers toiling in the dirt, grasping at each other, teeth bared, pale eyes sharp with moonlight.”

a witchy fantasy-horror about a teenage girl trying to break a curse while living under the yoke of an oppressive patriarchal regime.

firstly: this book was not for me. loved the prose, but disliked almost everything else. now that we’ve got that out of the way...

immanuelle moore is a sixteen-year-old biracial girl who lives in bethel, where the religious teachings of the holy father rule the day. the leader of their farming community is a figure called the prophet, whose power extends to burning witches at the stake, upholding an inquisition-like prison system, and marrying as many women as he can. these women get marked as property with a carving of a star on their forehead once they’re wed.

yeah. fun times with misogyny.

decades ago, there was a holy war between the prophet and apostles of bethel and the witches of the nearby darkwood, and the prophet won. the inhabitants of bethel follow the teachings of the holy father, and the witches the teachings of the dark mother -- the latter of whom is, of course, demonized by the prophet.

we follow immanuelle as she tries to explore her own heritage while resisting the mysterious calls of the witches from the wood… until a deathly curse sinks its claws into bethel.

description

thematically, this book tries to tackle a lot.

there’s the obvious oppressive patriarchy versus the free-spirited independent witches, but there’s also racism at play. black people who live in bethel are allowed only on the outskirts and have their own churches and villages, which are often quite poor. because their dark skin color is associated with the evil mother, they are seen as unclean by extension.

immanuelle, the child of a white mother and a black father, struggles with this immensely. living with a white family, she knows very little of how ‘the outskirters’ live, and part of her story is reclaiming her heritage and discovering her roots and history.

i thought that was one of the more poignant parts of the novel, even if it does show up as an in-depth exploration rather late (about halfway through the story).

another thing i greatly enjoyed was its prose. the year of the witching is a very readable book that’ll make you turn its pages fast, and yet it doesn’t sacrifice any of its haunting descriptions to do so. and i commend henderson for maintaining that balance so well.

the gothic horror descriptions are definitely my favorite thing about the reading experience. the darkwood where the witches live comes to life in a deeply unsettling, intangible way, and the stained glass and heavy wood cathedrals almost loom over our characters like the oppressive regime that they represent.

in terms of atmospheric set dressing and imagery, this book is a delight; dark and brooding and dangerous. lots of blood, violence, and other disturbing imagery keep you on your toes and serve its branding as horror rather well.

however, aesthetics and atmosphere weren’t enough to save the story for me.

characters, worldbuilding, and plot all felt a little too flimsy. the book seems to lean very heavily on shorthand and convenience, and even thematically, i couldn’t fully connect with the message of the story by the time the main plot got wrapped up.

description

first of all, the puritanical society in this is not exactly subtle.

characters all have biblical names, and of course the scary witches are named lilith, jael, mercy, and delilah. it’s a small and controlled world, which the prophet has arranged on purpose so he can play tyrant over his flock: borders are closed both ways, there’s torture chambers in the basements, and apparently a super powerful law enforcement body that can hunt down anybody.

women are married off by the dozens to men old enough to be their grandfathers as soon as they menstruate for the first time. such as leah, immanuelle’s best friend and one of the prophet’s many wives, who only ever seems to pop into the story to illustrate just how badly women are abused.

but at the same time, these violent cornerstones of society are weirdly absent from the rest of the world, and the prophet’s motivations seem inconsistent at best.

small town markets sell plenty of books with information on other countries in which women are, y’know, not treated like cattle. immanuelle browses these on your average day at the market. the bookseller’s even like, “ohoho, look at my cool books!”

my man, i know you’re not from the other side of the border because you’re not allowed in, so (1) where are you getting your books from, (2) who is reading this apparently semi-illegal shit in a not very literate community, (3) why are you openly advertising it in a marketplace, and (4) why are women allowed to read these??

and then there’s the fact that the dark-skinned outskirters practice a completely different version of the prophet’s religion in which witchcraft and the mother have a prominent place, and yet… the prophet appears not to care about this at all. people get burned at the stake for adultery and witchcraft, but not for having a worshipful portrait of the evil mother of witches in their church.

likewise, the darkwood is right fucking there, and the prophet is just letting it be and not burning it down even though lesbian witches are rolling around in the dirt and pregnant witches are dragging women into ponds. root of all evil; we’d better leave it there.

immanuelle is also pretty much allowed to go everywhere, explore everything, and discover whatever she needs to as the plot demands.

the witches let her in and out of the woods, and her new buddy ezra, the prophet’s son, easily gets her access to restricted libraries with forbidden knowledge and even census records in the prophet’s own fucking cathedral-mansion. wow!

because yes, the prophet’s son, indoctrinated from birth by the most evil misogynist in the history of bethel’s religion is of course The Wokest Man in Town™ on a mission to save The Women. i mean, to support immanuelle to save the women. and he likes her because she can read and she wants to fight the witches’ curse. we love an independent woman!

… sigh.

description

what tripped me up the most, however, was the ending. it felt like a thematic mess.

throughout the whole story, the witches are pitted against the religious misogynists. it’s an integral part of the main conflict of good versus evil. immanuelle’s eyes are wide open by the end of the book as she realizes that the prophet and those who follow him represent what’s truly wrong with the world, and the text openly acknowledges this multiple times.
“good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. good people are not complicit.”

“true evil, immanuelle realized now, wore the skin of good men.”
so what happens when immanuelle is faced with the prophet himself, fully aware of his crimes and how consciously he has committed them? how does she deal with a tyrannical, virulent, and violent abuser; a rapist, a pedophile, and a murderer?



[warning: graphic descriptions behind the next spoiler]



… i really have no words for the ending.

i suppose henderson was going for a break-the-violent-cycle of the past kind of approach, but that is kind of difficult when you have such an absolute shitstain of an antagonist. and the witches that are supposedly just as ‘evil’ as the religious misogynists are women who were abused and raped and burned for YEARS and finally wanted to take their revenge regardless of any innocents who got in the way.

and the text even explicitly asks the question if ‘innocents’ are truly good people if they continually turn a blind eye. it’s wild! methinks false equivalence is at play, and that left a decidedly sour taste in my mouth.

in conclusion: we could’ve had it all, but it ended up being a big disappointment.

if you can look past the convenient plot, meager worldbuilding, and the thematic mess that is the ending, you might still get a creepy autumn read out of it because the prose is great. otherwise, it’s a no from me.

2.5 stars.
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,233 followers
Read
September 3, 2020
3/9/20
So excited!! :D This will be one of the books which I'll be doing a live show for during the Fortnight Frights read-a-thon and Alexis will be joining in!! Currently the penultimate live show book (The Only Good Indians) before it's time to DIG IN :D

12/11/19
You all! 2020 is going to be MY Year of Witching! Me flying into the new year:


Heck yeah! There are so many dark fantasies coming out soon, it's wild. I don't know, I just feel blessed!


You can find me on
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September 15, 2020
Audio 3.75 Stars
Story dnf @ 78%

When....

"I won't listen to this in the dark!"😬 turns into "I fell asleep while listening to this and didn't have any nightmares."😕

And..

Going from "I wonder how this is going to end?" 😯🤔 turns into "When is this going to end already?"😑

It's time to DNF....
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