The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.
Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.
When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.
I do want to first start off my review saying that I am very aware of the controversy that this book has garnered since it’s publication. As a disclaimer, everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions which I respect and hope to have the same treatment given back.
Right off the bat, let’s take the controversy into consideration as I know it is at the forefront of most people’s minds when they think of The Black Witch. In my opinion, the ‘controversy’ is over-dramatized and, for transparency, I am saying this as a non-minority. If anything, this book touches on the subject of race and religious background just as any other Fantasy novel would, heck, even Harry Potter dealt with this topic… we all remember Mudbloods. I feel like this topic was handled realistically (or as realistically as you can for made up races in a made up world) and truly brought the topic of inclusion and how important it is to think for yourself and not draw conclusions or assumptions based on other people. That is one of the biggest lessons of this book and one that I greatly appreciated as it relates so much to the real world. I will come back to this topic throughout my review but hopefully this gives you an idea of why I feel he way I do about the topic.
Going back to my initial thoughts on the story, I will admit that it took me approximately 100 pages to really start connecting with the plot and characters. The initial set-up was rather slow but it did offer a good idea of the life that Elloren leads before leaving for Verpax University. She is a small town girl with small town ambitions and, as such, knows very little about the world beyond her town’s borders. Everything she knows, she had been taught from people close to her but who also have their own skewed view of people different from themselves. This is probably my favourite aspect to the book. Elloren’s character arc. You are with her from the start as she journeys from a small town to a veritable metropolis of a University that houses all walks of life. She has to deal with racism and prejudice and even displays the narrow minded thinking that she was raised with. As the story progresses, we actually see Elloren grow. We see her learn and start to use her mind - not only for her studies - but also to form her own opinions on people and befriend those that she would not have in the past. She has one of the most genuine character growth arcs that I have seen in a while. That being said, there were definitely times that I was mad at her for her prejudices but I was always rooting in her corner when I saw her make progress.
Now, with the sheer immense scope of this world, it was a lot to take in. There are so many well-realized religious backgrounds, moral opinions, races and government structure that I feel like I could actually make a history book about this world. Laurie Forest clearly put a lot of thought into all of these aspects and it shows. It was honestly a bit overwhelming at first but as the story progresses, things start to unfold in a way that does not feel like an info dump. The only issue that I had with the world building was that while every was so thought out, the University itself was pretty much a free-for-all. There did not seem to be any sort of structure from the lesson plans to disciplinary action to anyone being in charge of safety, etc. I know this can kind of be seen as an example of how the government is corrupt in this world but I find it hard to believe that a school would house a student with two others who clearly want to kill her.
Another aspect that I enjoyed was Elloren’s interactions with any of the characters she is introduced to. Every single character had such a clear voice and a background that was so specific to them that none really fell flat to me. Each character has a purpose. I will also say that slow burn romances are always a win for me so that was a great bonus! Honestly so satisfying and I hope it stays that way throughout the series because I almost suspect a trope that I do not like possibly coming into play in the future.
On to the structure of the book. It is written almost entirely from Elloren’s point of view aside from the times when a new Part comes into play. The first chapter following a new Part is always from someone else’s point of view. Now, we do not always know who that person is at the time but the payoff always comes (trust me). It is a very interesting way to introduce plot points and suspense but I am still unsure on if I like that format or not. It definitely seemed out of place the first couple times it happened.
There are also a few other points that I want to touch on in regards to the messages that this story teaches in such a wonderful way. The first of which was obviously the idea of inclusion and not jumping to conclusions about someone until you give them a chance (which can really be said about anyone ready the ‘controversial’ reviews on this book). The next was the topic of the suppression of women’s rights. This one surprised me a lot but from the way that magic works for women compared to men and the idea of Wandfasting, it really is a great allegory for women’s rights. Lastly is the message of educating yourself on what your government is doing and how you can make a difference. This was another topic that surprised me as it is one that is rarely treated in the way that Laurie Forest did. It was made very clear that there is such a small amount that is public knowledge in regards to government and that, if you really want to know what is going on and how to make things better, you need to be proactive and look into things yourself. All of these topics directly relate to the real world and brought to you under the guise of a fantasy story and I find it was done in a respectful approach.
I could still talk at length about The Black Witch but that would be getting into spoiler territory and I already feel like I am balancing that line. All-in-all, I really enjoyed this book and my opinion of it has only grown with time as my mind keeps returning to it in respect for all of the messages that it sends. I have already read book 2 (The Iron Flower) and am eagerly awaiting book 3!
Until next time, keep reading.