In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. (taken from Amazon)
This is going to be a very odd, convoluted review. I have very mixed thoughts on this one, so of course I’ll be unable to do much but blather. You have been warned.
The Year of the Witching felt like a mash-up of The Crucible and M. Night’s The Village, with some Anne Rice thrown in for good measure. It was haunting and I won’t forget it in a hurry.
The first thing I noticed was the author’s incredible ability to make a small, simple setting seem ominous and fraught with peril. The book takes place in a small, puritanical village. Women are seen as secondary to men and the Prophet controls everything. He uses fear and years of tradition to keep his cult in line. It was uncomfortable to read, but also fascinating. It got me mulling over the differences between obedience through faith and obedience through fear.
The book follows Immanuel, an illegitimate child of a woman who cheated on her betrothed with an Outskirter, a man of a different race and religion. That union does not end well, and Immanuel is raised by the family her mother was supposed to marry into. Immanuel tries to be subservient, the way women are supposed to be in this society, but instead is drawn in the Darkwood, a place of witches and curses. Something is started that only she can stop, if anyone can.
The characters themselves were interesting. The Prophet gave me major ick vibes (he’s supposed to), and at times it became too much. He legitimately scared me because he was utterly believable. In fact, the entire book got under my skin. It borrowed in deep and ended up really unsettling me.
I’m not sure entirely what was so disturbing about this book. I definitely think the overcontrolling patriarchy was part of it, as were the witches themselves. Nothing was overdone; Hendersen kept a balance between the “everyday life” of the book, and the creepiness that slowly bled into that. The curses themselves were set in motion in a way that just really bothered me.
That being said, the book is absolutely engrossing. The slower buildup complimented the claustrophobic feel of the town, and Immanuel’s discontent with the religion and fear of her disobedience being discovered just added to that. Despite being incredibly unsettled, I wanted to know how it ended. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book to every horror reader, but if you like subtle atmospheric horror, this will suit you.