Monday, May 8, 2017

ARC Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Series:     Black Witch Chron. #1
Pub. Date:May 2, 2017
Publisher:Harlequin Teen
Length:608 pages
Source:Edelweiss

The Black Witch is Laurie Forest's debut novel, and I envision a promising career ahead for this new author. I was initially daunted by the length of the novel, thinking that I didn't have time to fit it in my schedule. But all the controversy (more on this later) made me want to read this book for myself - and once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I read it over the course of a day and late into the night... and got killed by the cliffhanger! I got busy tweeting today to the author telling her to write fast because I need to know what happens... luckily she advises that the next installment is already written, so hopefully we won't have a horribly long delay.

This is one of the more provocative young adult novels that I have read, set on the fantastical world of Erthia. Erthia has various races (species? / cultures?) of mages, sorcerers, elves, fae, lupine and wyvern shapeshifters, etc. Each culture has its own strict religion and belief system which sees non-members as impure, demonic, or otherwise inferior. As you can imagine, there is a multitude of prejudice in this fantastical society, and the author does not pull punches when showing just how horrid some of these belief systems are. 

Our heroine and narrator of this tale is Elloren Gardner, a seventeen year old girl of the Gardnerian race of mages. She has been raised in a small town sheltered environment by her kindly non-violent uncle, and her worldview is limited to what she has been taught by her family, and what she has read in the Gardnerian's Holy Book. So Elloren is in no way prepared for what she will face when she enters the integrated University (magical boarding school) for the first time. Through difficult experiences, multicultural integration and education, Elloren starts down a tumultuous path of enlightenment where her worldview evolves and expands. While I found Elloren to be incredibly naive (through no fault of her own), I admired her opening her mind to other opinions and beliefs. It was not always easy for our heroine to change her way of thinking, particularly when she was hated and bullied by others, but she challenged herself and sought answers instead of sticking her head in the sand and taking the easy way out.

Elloren was not the only character broadening their beliefs, she collected a variety of allies and victims during her short time at the University. As these students were drawn together into their small resistance group, the author demonstrated how team work (even from a small group) can work to make a change. I liked that Elloren was not the only character who needed to challenge and change her beliefs. Through an examination of holy books and histories, we saw that each society had some aspect that would not be considered politically correct in today's society. From racism to sexism to homophobia - this was a book that made you think, explore and analyze multiple points of view. Doing this while becoming embroiled in the angst, drama and action made for a very busy brain and that 608 pages flew by very fast.

I voluntarily reviewed an advanced copy of this book that I received from the publisher, Harlequin Teen.

As to the controversy surrounding this book, it really saddens me to see fellow readers calling for the censorship and banning of books. I, in no way, think that this author was condoning any prejudice or homophobia or misogyny, but instead showed the evolution of our heroine and her friends breaking out of that mold, changing their worldview and joining the resistance. And honestly, the societal situation in this book is not uncommon in fantasy, paranormal and historical stories. If you don't like to read about these issues, don't read the book. It's simple. But the majority of the people who I see blacklisting this book and/or rating it poorly, have not even taken the time to read the story for themselves. Instead they have joined a hivemind to bash an author and publisher. Listen, its fine if you read and don't like it... write a review and state your reasons why. Don't just start bashing authors and publishers and then link to someone else's review without forming your own opinion. That reflects poorly on you. As of the time I wrote this review... I only saw 2 negative reviews from people who actually read the book. The other 700 one-star ratings were from the hive mind who admitted that they did not (and would not) read the book. So I urge everyone to read the story for themselves before forming your opinion or bashing an author.