Rating: 4 / 5
October was all about the witchy stories for the #SaturdayBookstaClub buddy read that I help to host on Bookstagram, so THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson was our second pick of the month. This one leaned into the darker side of the fall and Halloween season and I had seen some rave reviews going into it!
THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING follows Immanuelle, a young woman who has never really belonged in her tight knit, ultra religious community. Her mother went off into the woods and had a love affair with a man deemed inappropriate to her community, a Black man from the outskirts and a man not of their same faith. Her grandmother helped her mother give birth even so and took Immanuelle into the family after bother her parents died.
As Immanuelle is nearing adulthood, she is drawn back to the woods, a place to be avoided according to local lore. When she winds up in the woods somewhat against her best intentions, she encounters the spirits of witches once killed there by the religious leaders and Immanuelle feels a surprising connection to them. When plagues begin to fall on her community, Immanuelle must seek further answers about her history and seek to save the lives of those she loves.
This is a very dark read with trigger warnings for sexual misconduct/rape, blood and gore.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book but I wound up really enjoying it. The pace of the first half is pretty slow and I can see how that would be a turn off for some, but I think the author did an amazing job of building up the atmosphere, the creepiness of both the woods with their witches and the religious setting that Immanuelle has grown up in. These are built up as opposites very well, but the author also exposes that there is darkness even under the ‘pure’ religious order as well.
The religion presented here is a perverted version of Christianity with all the power going to a man who raises himself up as the center of everything. His own dark and evil nature taints everything throughout the book and it is easy to want to see Immanuelle take him down. The author does a great job of showing how people have been so indoctrinated into this religion that they fail to even see what is right in front of them.
I really enjoyed Immanuelle as a character. She clearly doesn’t feel at home with her own community or even her own family, but when she goes out to seek answers she still feels a bond and a responsibility to help the people she grew up around. Women have little to no voice or agency in this society which makes Immanuelle as the hero seeking to save everyone even more shocking for those around her.
This one is not for the feint of heart, but I would recommend it to those looking for a dark read with social commentary very relevant to our current world! I will be lookingn for more by Alexis Henderson in the future!