Saturday, February 6, 2021

Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

by Laurie Forest
Release Date: May 2nd 2017
2017 Harlequin Teen
Kindle Edition; 607 Pages
ISBN: 978-0373212316
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to 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 people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
*There is rant in the middle of this review. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. *
My Thoughts
The Black Witch is the first book in the The Black Witch Chronicles, and as the publisher offered me a copy of the fourth book in this series, which publishes in September, I needed to read the first three books in this series, plus associated books.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this novel, enjoyed the diverse characters, thought the world was interesting, and was impressed by the underlying themes running through it.
Elloren is the main character in the story and she is incredibly naive about the world and the political systems and prejudices involved.  Growing up in a small village, sheltered from the machinations of the government, with an uncle who broke some laws by teaching her things women were not allowed to learn, she eventually goes to university to train as an apothecary and is suddenly thrust in the midst of intrigue and prejudice, the like she has never experienced in her sheltered little world.  
Being Gardnerian, Elloren has grown up with a very strict religious code and is shocked to learn how that code is used to subjugate others within her country; for the first time her eyes are opened to abuse and neglect and she begins to realize that not everything is good and perfect within her world.  Elloren's struggles to come to terms with the prejudices within her religion, to see that the religion she has grown up with is very problematic is one of the best things about this book.  Of course she looks for things to substantiate her belief, but slowly, she comes to realize that the things she has grown up to believe are wrong, she acts upon them and tries to learn more about her country, her world, and the peoples within it.   
EDIT: Holy crap, when I read some of the reviews after writing this, I was shocked and I just think that people DO NOT GET IT.  Elloren goes from being this hugely naive girl at the beginning of the book to championing the other races, a huge transformation in my opinion, and I really enjoyed how the author did that.  And considering this is only the first book in a planned five-book series, she still has a long way to go.  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where the author takes this character.  I will never support censorship and feel the author has a right to write his/her own story. If the characters are flawed and prejudiced, so what? That's where the author has the ability to fix some of that through storytelling. Since when does art not reflect harsh themes? And for the love of God, read the damn book before writing a review and stop basing reviews on what someone else thinks. 
The plot is told through Elloren's POV and while I enjoyed it for the most part, I do have to say that if I had to read about Yvan's 'beautiful' body or 'beautiful' eyes one more time, I thought I was going to scream.  On one page, I think I counted the word 'beautiful' five times in reference to this guy, to the point I lost track of what was happening and had to re-read the page.  Please STOP!
Okay, back to the plot.  For the most part, it was your usual fantasy story, with a couple of twists that did take me for a loop.  Elloren, on some level, must be a problem child as she seems to get into spats with almost everyone.  There was the usual mix of races in this book; fae, elf, lupin, demon, etc..., but we do get so involved with Elloren's day to day struggles that the other characters sometimes get lost within the pages of those struggles, and I would have loved to learn a lot more about those other characters, especially her roommates, as there is so much scope there.  And it looks like there is a love-triangle blooming, can't stand those at the best of times.   I also think a bit more information about the external struggles would have been nice.  You've also got the requisite mean girl scenario happening whom everyone thinks is the Black Witch, who happens to play mean jokes on everyone, including Elloren.  

The Black Witch was enjoyable and frankly, I am pretty disappointed in people who gave this book a poor rating or slammed the author without having read the book.  Is the book a bit tropey? Yes, of course. But there was enough in it that made it fun, and there were some interesting twists that I wasn't expecting, especially when Elloren was at the university.  The author really focused on Elloren's prejudices and her personal growth as she came to realize the other races were not really so much different, and I like how she really took the time to learn about the real history and not just brush it off.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series, The Iron Flower.