Book Review by Aarene Storms: The Black Witch

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter -- and the perfect likeness -- of the original Black Witch, who drove back enemy forces and saved her people during the Realm War. Because of the power of the Black Witch, Elloren's people are undisputed rulers now.

Long after the death of her famous grandmother, Elloren was raised by her uncle in a small village, surrounded by people very much like her and her family. Now it is time for her to travel to the big city, to attend University there, and possibly to meet someone to marry.

Unlike those in the village, the people in the city are very diverse. And, because this is a fantasy book, these diverse people don't simply have differently-colored skin and hair; instead, some of them have wings, some turn into wolves, and others have types of magic that Elloren has never seen before. Elloren has always been told that people who are different are also inferior, or even evil. Why should she question this?

If you have ever read a book before, you will probably be able to predict what happens to Elloren when she actually gets to know a werewolf, a selkie, and some people with wings. In The Black Witch, as is common in literature, the main character evolves and grows from a state of ignorance to a state of enlightenment (or at least, less ignorance).

However, YA blogger Shauna Sinyard didn't think that the change happened fast enough or convincingly enough. In a very long and damning book review, she condemned both the book and those who enjoyed reading the book. She calls the book "the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read. It's racist, ableist, homophobic, and is written with no marginalized people in mind."

Ms Sinyard is welcome to her opinion, of course. However, by urging Twitter and Tumblr followers to boost the signal by posting 1-star reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere without actually reading the book, a line is crossed.

I do not always write glowing reviews. 

(Here's my review of a book that was originally well-received and later banned, which I consider a 3-star ho-hum of a read. Here's another review of a book that just wasn't very well-written.)

I do, however, always read an entire book before reviewing it.

So, what was my verdict?

First off, I read this book in about a day and a half, skipping meals and ignoring bedtime to finish it.

It's a quick, engaging story with magic, family drama, and several star-crossed romances. There was minimal cussing, some nekkidness, discussions of mating rituals with no sex on the page, and mentions of off-page sexual abuse. The story did not explore new ground, philosophically speaking. From Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter, literature is filled with characters who overcome ignorance by getting to know an individual. The Black Witch follows absolutely in those footsteps.

Ms Sinyard also seems unaware that "The Black Witch Chronicles" will be a series. Her complaint that the character changes happen too slowly over hundreds of pages would be valid if the entire tale were told in a single volume. However, the advertisement for book #2 The Iron Flower (due for release in May 2018) included at the back of my book served as an important clue: the story is not yet finished.

And as soon as I finished The Black Witch, I put myself in the library's hold queue for book #2.

Read it, and decide for yourself. I thought it was a great book, and entirely appropriate and recommended for ages 14 to adult.

The events may not have happened; still, the story is true.  --R. Silvern

Aarene Storms, youth services librarian
Richmond Beach and Lake Forest Park Libraries, KCLS


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