Review of The Year of the Witching (Henderson)

The Year of the Witching Book Review

The Year of the Witching (Bethel Series, 2020; HORROR, DARK FANTASY), by Alexis Hendersen 

Immanuelle isn’t like other girls in her puritanical and cult-like society of Bethel. For one thing, her mother emerged from the forbidden woods, where witches live, to give birth to her. The Prophet she tried to escape from is the very same one who reigns over Immanuelle, and her path is about to cross with his in the worst of ways.

The plot is kicked off by an ill-fated and long journey to the market, in which a runaway goat and the supernatural pull of the woods changes Immanuelle’s life forever. And it isn’t only that. Something is driving Immanuelle to go back to a heretical place full of dangerous magic and unseen forces. Despite everything she knows, she almost can’t resist. The mother she never knew lived there for months, after all—something that should have been impossible.

Witches aside, all is not well in Immanuelle’s tiny world of Bethel. The Prophet’s Haven is just about as frightening as the woods, if not more. Add an unlikely (and very dangerous) romance, plus the watchful (often leering) eye of the Prophet and there is a whole lot of trouble brewing—most of it centered on women.

Loose Ends: This beautifully descriptive debut novel doesn’t wrap up tidily. A second book in the Bethel series is due in 2021.

The Year of the Witching has plenty of creepy details and no shortage of descriptive words for blood. There are plagues, wicked prophets and undead witches, including one with a skull with antlers replacing the head she lost. It’s a fine mix of dark fantasy and horror. But there is an undercurrent of real-life social issues beneath it, and a strong theme of exploitation of young women (and the not as young).

Then there’s the descriptive writing, which was beautiful and often both chilling and perfect. I loved diving into Immanuelle’s tightly bound world.

Something was missing for me, though: the wrap-up after the climax. It left me wanting more, especially after days of page-turning, fabulous storytelling. It seemed to be setting up for a sequel. I closed the book with no idea of what happened to some of the characters, which was frustrating.

A sequel will arrive in 2021, however: The Dawn of the Coven. As of posting, there are scant details about it, so I can’t say whether it will continue Immanuelle’s story. Whatever it is, though, I will be eagerly waiting to read it. Henderson’s wonderful writing is just too good to be missed.