In Which I Read a Book About a Witch? Maybe? Question Mark?

POSTED ON March 14, 2017 BY Austine IN Book Review

In Which I Read a Book About a Witch? Maybe? Question Mark?
The Black Witch
by Laurie Forest
Series: The Black Witch Chronicles #1
Published on May 2, 2017 by Harlequin TEEN
Format: ARC
Pages: 608
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

A Great Winged One will soon arise and cast his fearsome shadow upon the land. And just as Night slays Day, and Day slays Night, so also shall another Black Witch rise to meet him, her powers vast beyond imagining.

So foretells the greatest prophecy of the Gardnerian mages. Carnissa Gardner, the last prophesied Black Witch, drove back the enemy forces and saved her people during the Realm War. Now a new evil is on the horizon, and her granddaughter, Elloren, is believed to be Carnissa’s heir—but while she is the absolute image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above nearly all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren is eager to join her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University and finally 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 peoples—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of her people—is an even more treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

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I don’t normally do live updates while reading a book. Honestly, I tend to read so fast that it’s just not worth it to me and most of the time I don’t have so much to say that I feel like it’s necessary. It can wait until the review. But this particular title stirred up a lot of….thoughts….that I felt important to share with y’all, my fellow readers.

Before anything else I want to say that first, I am not the best judge of good rep because I know that I am privileged and still learning, and will always have more to learn. Which is why, when this thread was shared in regards to The Black Witch, I chose not to comment because I wanted to listen and see how the book was perceived by those who are likely better judges than I am. I’m still learning about diversity in terms of how it’s represented in literature and what to look for as someone who doesn’t necessarily belong to one group or another so my thoughts on this book are going to be based on what I perceived as well as the discussion occurring online about The Black Witch.

I also want to make note that this is a critical review of the book and by no means a reflection of how I feel toward the author. I believe criticism shouldn’t connect the two and hope that these comments are taken as such.

To the book… As I said, I don’t normally post updates but for this one I had 33 updates. Which is CRAZY. And you can go and read through them here if you’re interested. I did attempt to keep spoilers out as much as possible for those still planning to read the book, if that’s a concern.

I’m honestly not sure where to start. I actually began this book about a month ago? Something like that. Got to page 45 or so and put it down. Wasn’t interested. One of my top anticipated reads of the year and I just wasn’t hooked. Didn’t care. The protagonist, Elloren, was all sorts of special snowflake and it drove me absolutely insane. I like cliches. I like tropes. I don’t like special snowflakes. And then we get humanoid creatures being treated as literal animals and it was a small scene but really just had me wondering WTF was going on.

Now our special little snowflake was ALSO that heroine who didn’t think she was pretty or dressed well enough and had this whole complex (think Twilight’s Bella) about her, but she was apparently beautiful and talented and you get the idea. Not. A. Fan. Honestly, I just really didn’t like her as a character period. I never felt connected to her. I never wanted to root for her success. She was there, narrating in first person, present tense (ugh, that’s just not a favorite of mine but PoV and tense are more a personal preference), and I just wanted to find a character that I could care about.

That didn’t happen for a while but before then I endured info dumps that I wanted to skim and races explained with far too many stereotypes. The Lupines were wild animals, a beastly race, uncivilized (these are there werewolf-esque people, for the record). The Amaz are strong warrior women who shun men. The Gardnerians are the elite with their pale, shimmering skin and dark hair. The evil Icarals are demonic, with their black wings and use of fire magic. Elves are prissy, religious zealots. One after another. I didn’t have to think about any of them because years of reading fantasy already gave me everything I needed to know about these races.

And race was huge in this book. Like I said, I am likely not the best judge of this due to my own background and I acknowledge that but Elloren was ridiculously racist. And homophobic. And I’m sure a number of other things. For about two-thirds of The Black Witch, she allowed race to basically control everything she did. She let her weird love-interest-not-really-boyfriend person threaten people’s families and a small child with death if they bullied her for her race except hers was the elite in this society and oppressing the others. And she just justified this as being better than them bullying her. It was acceptable. Okay.

I’m sorry but no. 

Hell, her favorite class of them all (she’s at a university, mind you) is the one talking about her people’s history because there aren’t any other students from other races so it is a “safe space.” Colonization and taking over other peoples “for their own good” is actually explained like that, as if it’s perfectly normal and should happen.

Not to mention that she loved describing the other races as demonic. The word came up often.

Oh, and there’s this one moment where one of the secondary characters makes the comment that the Lupine couldn’t possibly be bad because he loved poetry.

That happened. 

Calling all the other peoples “infidel” races, except the Gardnerians of course because they’re so great.

Also happened. 

Now, that’s all about the protagonist and that’s because I can’t tell you what this story is really about. It’s 600 pages of a character realizing that they’re kind of a terrible person and how they change that perception and suddenly become the name for all that is inclusive because obviously years of ingrained ideas can be overturned in a span of a few days? A week? Honestly I couldn’t tell you how much time actually passes in this story.

There are 600 pages. In that time, Elloren goes to a university. You hear all about this prophecy speaking of the new Black Witch (the old one being her grandmother) and she has this power that’s never explained and so, yes, I assumed that was going somewhere.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

The first 450 pages were her learning to be a decent human being and then in the last 150 pages the other characters got some development and the story picked enough to actually make things interesting. Like there was ACTION and hey, MAGIC (…but not really all that much for a book with “witch” in the title?) and DRAGONS (…but not nearly enough for all the promotion about the book featuring them).

I was not happy that there was very little magic in this book. And that I had far too many questions about the magic that were never addressed because it just wasn’t important enough.

Now right before the pace sped up, there was a scene that actually had me stop and stare blankly at the page because I could not believe that I had just read it. While I understand that it was meant to be a shocking scene to contrast against the one that followed, it talked of a group of people as savages in need of structure and order from the Gardnerians. This was the only scene at that level that I found but still may be a concern for other readers.

There’s also a romance. It hinted at a love triangle, thankfully didn’t happen, but neither did the romance and honestly I don’t think it was needed. Then again I didn’t like the protagonist enough to ship her with anyone so…

As disjointed as this review probably is, I’m not sure I could really discuss this book without going on a novel-length tangent about one thing or another so I hope this makes so sense. For a YA fantasy, I found The Black Witch to be filled with an abundance of horrid stereotypes and handled racism very poorly. It was hundreds of pages of setting up for a future book that could have been fit into a book half the size that would likely have been more entertaining to read. This is the second book I’ve read from Harlequin TEEN recently that I didn’t enjoy (Heir to the Sky being the one before this) and I hope that these two books and The Continent are not an indication of what I can expect from this imprint as I’ve enjoyed others from them (namely all of Julie Kagawa’s books).

No, I would not recommend this to fans of the genre, though I had wanted to like it so much. This was a highly disappointing read.

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15 responses to “In Which I Read a Book About a Witch? Maybe? Question Mark?

  1. This is a bummer. I was really looking forward to this and it is so pretty and Laurie is so nice.
    I’m just going to go be sad in the corner for awhile…😫😫😭

    • I was too and this was definitely disappointing. And yes, she is! This is absolutely not a reflection on her as a person so I hope no one takes it that way. It’s about the book and it just didn’t work for me. But it still has a lot of good reviews so I’m just voicing one opinion!

    • It’s a shame and that cover IS pretty but not the first time I’ve read a book with great cover art but a not-so-great story inside, sadly.

  2. Sorry to hear this wasn’t the best Austine! There was a huge discussion on Twitter a few days ago about the racism and homophobia in this book so I think I’m just going to skip this one because I don’t want to waste my time reading a book like this! Thanks for such an honest review! <3

    • Yes, that discussion was really informative and though I’d already started the book before it was posted I’m glad I didn’t get far.

      Do what feels right for you as a reader!

  3. I’m so over racist books making it this far into the publication process. I was following the thread on Twitter and I was pretty frustrated. Thank you for taking your time to read the book and pointing out how problematic it is. I went to the GR page after I saw the Twitter thread and was surprised by how many 5 star reviews there were. We need more reviewers like you. I hope the publisher will decide to delay the book to address these problematic representation like they did for The Continent.

    • I’m a bit surprised as well since even if you look past the issues of racism the story itself just isn’t really there. At least for me it wasn’t. I’m not sure if a delay for revision will help since it permeates all 600 pages but at least we can make people more aware with early reviews.

  4. When I first heard of this book, I didn’t even know that it focused so much on race and I find it super odd that the author chose to address race by using a fictional set of races in a fantasy world. I’m going to attempt to read this one just because a friend is sending me the book, but I have no expectations. Like all of this sounds offensive af and I’m super concerned about Harlequin TEEN. They are effing up hard.

    • I didn’t either! I was excited for a magical fantasy even with a “chosen one/prophecy” going on (not my FAVORITE cliche to say the least). And definitely don’t take my review as the only opinion! It has received high ratings as well as low.

      And yes, I am too… This is 2 books in 6 months (The Continent would have come out in January if it hadn’t been called out). It’s a bit worrisome.

  5. Bummer this sucked for you – I know how excited you were. I thought it sounded amazing, but after your review and the various Twitter threads, I’m just going to steer well clear. It’s clearly a hot, racist mess and it’s about time it gets sorted out. Surely we live in a better world where you can write villains without having to racially stereotype them?!

  6. The reviews for this (the ones that actually talk about the racism anyway) seem to just be getting worse and worse (as in pointing out more of the story that just seems so cringe-worthy). Honestly makes me wonder how so many others can just ignore all the issues and say it’s an amazing read…

    Just from the examples people have shared from the actual book, I know I don’t want to be anywhere near it. Great review!