Series: The Black Witch Chronicles #1
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 2, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: Print ARC
Source: Print ARC
Buy on Amazon
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 received a copy of this book from my library’s children’s librarian. School Library Journal had sent it to her to read and review. I have a little more time on my hands (plus, they sent 4 other books), so I picked this one to read for her. I had planned to wait until it was closer to the release date to read it but I kept seeing it pop up on Twitter. Everyone I follow on Twitter complained very heartily about this book citing racism, among other things. I decided that I wouldn’t wait to read it then. I wanted to find out for myself if it really was as bad as so many people had said. If I hadn’t already had the book in my possession, I likely would have never picked it up. But, I did. Therefore, I jumped into this book knowing that there was a lot of racism. I think knowing ahead of time what to expect lessened the blow they all received. I’m going to provide a very unpopular opinion because I actually quite enjoyed the book.
Overall I’d give it a 4 out of 5.
The reason I was so keen on reading this for myself is because I’m the type of person who wants to make up her own mind. I will take advice of others but ultimately I like to decide for myself. That’s the viewpoint I had on going into this book. This is a debut novel for Laurie Forest, and I’m sad that so many people will miss out on her. She is a great writer. I quite enjoyed her style of writing. It reminded me a little of The Name of the Wind. Her writing is quite well done. I can’t wait to see what else she does in the future.
Let me address the racism issue that so many people have brought up. Yes, this book has a lot of racism. Yes, the character takes at least half of the book to really start moving away from that. I’d like to defend this character, and author. I agree that racism is a huge issue. This book does not say that it is okay, not in the least. It takes the main character a long time to finally realize that everything she had been taught was wrong. I am not defending racism, by any means. I abhor it and I was quite distressed by the amount within this book, but it doesn’t make it a bad book. The author was drawing parallels with our own past.
I’m going to cite Kirkus Reviews now. I went to look at the reviews on Kirkus and Publishers Weekly (both of which gave great reviews, Kirkus even starred it) not long after starting this book. I’d seen what the readers who had access to the ARCs thought, so I decided to see what the professional reviewers thought. I was very surprised to see such raving reviews from those two. I especially love Kirkus because they’re not afraid to say what they really feel. Kirkus states, “In Elloren’s tale, this briskly paced, tightly plotted novel enacts the transformative power of education, creating engaging characters set in a rich alternative universe with a complicated history that can help us better understand our own” (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/laurie-forest/black-witch). This sums up my feelings about this book, especially the last line. The society of Gardnerians (the human race) is truly messed up, but it’s not very different from our own past. English high society often married their children off to relatives in order to keep their people ‘pure’. The racism within this book is not too far removed from the racism within our past. Does it make it right? No. Not at all. This book is great because we’re able to take a 21st century look at our past. The characters within this book are able to do what no character in a Jane Austen novel would be able to do. They’re able to go against the status quo. To slowly shed their way of thinking.
I don’t condemn Elloren for her slow change of heart. Shaking off everything you’ve been taught is hard. In her case, she has to shake off everything that her society teaches, as well as her religion. Religion is a powerful thing and this book really shows how powerful it can be, especially when connected to the governing of a society. The Gardenian society is abhorrent and awful. They do some truly screwed up things. But, this parallels a lot of English history especially. I’m glad Forest wrote this because it is a truly fantastical tale, in the literal sense. But, it also shows us what things were like. What’s great about it is that she’s able to show us the past while changing it according to the feelings of the 21st century. Even today we have racism and homophobia (that’s an issue mentioned as well). People are banning the remake of Beauty and the Beast due to homophobia, for goodness sake. These issues are not dead. I wouldn’t have liked this book as much if it didn’t take Elloren a longer time to truly think for herself. It is HARD to let go of what you’ve been taught your entire life. Especially when confronted directly by people who are also prejudice. She didn’t have it easy in this book. It was bound to take her a while to actually let go of her prejudice.
The world building in this book is fantastic. I hate the Gardnerians, as you should. They’re screwed up. I’m eager to get to know all of the other races. I like that it takes a new approach and adds in races we don’t see often. I was especially excited to see that Selkies are in it. I don’t remember what book I read that had selkies, but they’re really cool. I also loved that there are Lupines, Elves, and Fae. In all fantasy books there’s a bit of racism with these races. Take Lord of the Rings for example. The elves and dwarfs in that series are extremely racist towards one another. In this one, it’s the Gardnerians that have caused so much strife, but each race has their own set of religions and values. They’re all going to look at things differently. Forest effectively does this within the book. She provides a look at the different religions of each race, as well as histories. It does take a while to get there, but I don’t fault her for that. She took a realistic approach, which I admire. I loved the way she built the world and I can’t wait to see the Gardnerians taken down off their black pedestal.
I am eager to read the next book. I can’t wait to get to know more of these characters. There’s such a diverse cast of characters with unknown races. I’m eager to explore and see what Forest has to offer with this series. I don’t care that I’m one of the few who actually enjoyed this book. It challenged me. I’m glad I had read the good and bad reviews because I was able to take a more informed look at it. Books like this are meant to challenge you. You’re not supposed to accept the blatant racism and homophobia. She’s challenging those ideals through this book. She’s showing the readers a mirror into our past and somewhat still in our present. I’m sorry if my review, which is in stark disagreement with the majority of readers, upsets anyone. I enjoyed the challenge this book provided. I enjoyed the plot, the world, and can’t wait to see how Forest dismantles the Gardnerian society. Because she will. That’s her goal, which is evident throughout this book.
My advice to readers is to make your own opinions. You don’t have to go out and buy it. I’m sure a lot of libraries will still get this book due to the professional reviews. Borrow it and see for yourself. Challenge yourself. This book is meant to challenge you. It’s also quite an adventure. I’d recommend people give it a proper shot before condemning it.
Thanks for reading!
April 21st, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Laurie Forest, as well as get my book signed.
Talking to the author and her goal for the book made me want to talk about this book more. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to get a hardback copy and get it signed. I’m eager to see what this series has to bring.