Witchcraft has lost some of its bite in the last hundred years. From nose-twitching Samantha to teenage wizards roving the halls of Hogwarts, witchcraft has moved from a dark threat to a childish fantasy. Alexis Henderson’s debut novel, The Year of the Witching, abandons this trend, plunging readers headlong back into a world where magic is a thing to be dreaded and feared.
Despite its dark promise, The Year of the Witching opens with scenes of relative innocence. Immanuelle Moore has always been relegated to the outskirts of Bethel society due to her family’s checkered history and biracial heritage, but she is, all things considered, relatively happy. Even if her very birth was an affront to the Prophet and cast her family into disgrace, she is able to go on Sabbath picnics with her best friend and tend her flock of sheep in the relative safety of Bethel’s fields. But a darker side to Bethel lurks beneath the surface. When Immanuelle stumbles into the Darkwood while chasing a rogue ram, a pair of witches give her a piece of contraband that will change her life forever: her dead mother’s journal. Although its very existence puts Immanuelle’s life and freedom in jeopardy, she is loathe to give up the only connection she has to a woman and a history she never knew. But as she digs deeper into the journal’s pages, Immanuelle discovers a secret about herself that threatens to lead her to ruin—and Bethel towards a reckoning.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Alexis Henderson on growing up in one of America’s most haunted cities.
Alexis Henderson’s novel is heavy, and not because of its page count. The Year of the Witching explores issues of identity, patriarchy and life under a totalitarian theocracy, all of which would be terrifying in their own right. But Henderson introduces us to this world, equal parts The Handmaid’s Tale and 1690s Salem, gently. She allows readers to slowly see for themselves the cracks in Bethel’s pious facade before bringing down the full weight of its horror. That horror necessitates a warning to the faint of heart: This is not the book for you if you even border on squeamish. The Year of the Witching revels in a sort of rich macabre tone, describing scenes of blood and horror so vividly that you can almost smell the putrid flesh of the witches of the Darkwood and feel the harsh stone of the Prophet’s altar. For the wrong reader, The Year of the Witching will fail to do anything but nauseate. But for the right reader—a reader who loves historical fiction and the cold feeling of text-induced terror—this book is a perfect read, certain to terrify, disturb and intrigue from beginning to end.