I finished The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson at the beginning of the week. I immediately ran to my laptop, prepared to write my review. Then, I opened WordPress and became a babbling idiot. I lost all ability to word, vocabulary, and communicate. I tore through the thesaurus and then cursed it. Maybe I could write my review of Alexis Henderson’s debut in elvish? No. I could not.
So, I slept on it. The next day? Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Today, I don’t care if it takes the entire day, I’m going to write my tribute to The Year of the Witching. To accomplish this goal, I’m setting three essential bullet points that I need to accomplish. It might seem like common sense. However, ask anyone that has visited my site, and I don’t believe that you will hear streamlined and straight forward as review descriptors. So, for me, this is pretty revolutionary. Here are my three guiding points:
- Not spoil anything.
- Without breaking #1, dissect how Alex Henderson has no right to have Year of the Witching as a debut. No debut should be legally allowed to deconstruct me on a cellular level.
- Without breaking #1, manage, on some level, to convey why The Year of the Witching, and hear me out here, is an incredible Gothic Horror/ Occult novel. But, that is the tip of the literary iceberg of what Alexis Henderson has put into the world.
Don’t Dismiss The Horror
Don’t get me wrong. Right off the bat, Henderson put me at ease by letting me know that at the very least, The Year of the Witching would deliver on its promise.
A mangle of teeth and eyes and rendered flesh. The tulip of what might have been the creature’s womanhood or perhaps an open mouth. Broken fingers and disembodied eyes with slits for pupils. Inexplicably, the ink still looked wet, and it rippled toward the edges of the papers as if, threatening to spill onto the bed, soak the sheets black.
And from there, Henderson ups the ante on the level of horror, not just through the graphic and inventive ways she utilizes witchcraft, sigils, and plagues. The palpable progression of paranormal horrors collide with those created by a patriarchal society, and compelling themes Henderson has been establishing throughout The Year of the Witching. It is at this intersection that Henderson’s writing becomes intoxicating.
Horrors Of Reality
There are fantastic horror/occult books, and then there are fiercely, bravely written horror/occult books that take on more. It is what makes excellent fiction brilliant. It has all the shock value, all the entertainment value, and all the gore you want. Then while you are greedily gorging on that piece, there is another type of horror story being told.
That horror story is the one created by society. Year of the Witching equally pulls out all the stops on each front. And then effortlessly entwines them together without pulling punches, and is brutally honest. Yet, with all its intensity and social themes, never once did it feel preachy (except for when men used scripture to control, literally- and, well, that’s the point).
That is quite the tightrope to walk, but Henderson walked it like a pro, which she isn’t supposed to do, is she? After all, The Year of the Witching is Alexis Henderson’s debut novel. How can this possibly be her debut novel? And we haven’t even talked about Immanuelle yet. That’s next.
Thank you to Ace for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Immanuelle: The Gold Standard
Flat characters, especially the main character, would put all this to waste. A strong main character is a must to pull this all together. In Immanuelle, Henderson has molded one of the most unflinching, courageous, and vehement female heroines in recent memory. I dare say that Henderson, in Immanuelle, has created a gold standard for female heroines with Immanuelle, and I will die on that hill. Immanuelle is strong, defiant, flawed, hated, abused, and oppressed. Immanuelle is also protective, merciful, just, and repentant.
What more can you put on Immanuelle? She is a woman in a Puritan society. Immanuelle is a Black/Biracial woman in a Puritan society. She is a Black/Biracial woman whose mother was exiled and disgraced because she cheated on the Prophet, in a Puritan society. She is a Black/Biracial woman whose mother was exiled and disgraced because she cheated on the Prophet, AND she’s a witch, in a Puritan society.
As for the girls like Immanuelle – the ones from the Outskirts, with dark skin and raven-black curls, cheekbones as keen as cut stone- well, the Scriptures never mentioned them at all. There were no statures or paintings rendered in their likeness, no poems or stories penned in their honor. They went unmentioned, unseen.
And STILL, she wants to try and save Bethel. Would I? Multiple times I noted in my Kindle- but why? Do you have to? Really? But, by the end of the book. I understood, with stunning, blinding clarity why (as the summary states), changing herself, was not enough. She had to start with herself but has to try and change Bethel, too.
In that clarity, through Henderson’s damning dialogue, inner-narrative when Immanuelle comes to stand not just in her truth but in Bethel’s truth. And in those moments, you stand side-by-side with Immanuelle. As the darkest pieces lock into place, and realization ignites her fervor and cracks your soul, for Immanuelle, for Bethel, and the knowledge that those horrors are still alive, and well today.
I’ve pre-ordered the audible and the hardback because GIVE IT TO ME. To be fair, if it becomes a part of a subscription box, I might replace the hardback with the subscription box.