Author: Sasha Peyton Smith
In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.
Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.
Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?
The Witch Haven was a roller coaster of a mystery filled with compelling characters and a darker New York backdrop in the early 1900s. The story opens with a murder where a boy is thrown into the East River of New York in May 1911. I loved the opening as this a story that illustrates the importance of the first lines as the reader immediately is drawn to find more about this boy, who he is and why he was murdered. The story then moves to the novel’s main character, 17-years-old Frances Hallowell who works as a seamstress for Mr. Hues and lives at the facility with other girls. She is dealing with the grief from the recent loss of her brother, William, and trying to get by with her life. After her boss tries to assault her, she unknowingly uses magic to kill him.
The following morning two nurses arrive to escort Frances to Haxahaven Sanitarium with a “tuberculosis” diagnosis before she can further the interrogation by the police about Mr. Hues’s murder. The sanitarium is actually Haxahaven Academy, which is a school for those with magical powers. When she arrives at the school, she begins to think that this might be the perfect new home for her. Mysterious notes start showing up when she sleeps leading Frances to believe that there is something more going on than meets the eye. Her time at school is mixed with the mystery of her brother murder, learning magic, and making new friendships. It was interesting following Frances along on this journey as she was a well written character and I enjoyed reading about her growth as the story progressed. She has a lot going on as she grieves for her brother, balancing the newfound information that she is a witch, and learning to navigate new friendships.
The characters in this story were enjoyable. I loved the friendship that forms between Lena, Maxine, and Frances as they were all different personalities, but they balanced each other well. Although the reader does learn about each character, I wish there was more as both Lena and Maxine were very interesting. The three friends find a spell book and begin to further their magical learning with the help of Finn, who also was a friend of William. As there is a spell that can help them speak to the dead, the group sets out on a quest to search for the ingredients. There are multiple dangers and obstacles to navigate with plenty of twists and turns for the reader. Along the way, the group’s friendship continues to grow and there is romance brewing for Frances.
Overall, this was an interesting read. While the building blocks of the novel are not unique and can be found in multiple other novels, such as the gifted heroine, the multiple love interests, among others, but this story does put a nice twist on it to create a unique novel. The world building was great once Frances arrives at the school as the setting is well described. I do wish there was a little more to reflect the time period with the sights and sounds. The wording choices fit the atmosphere, but it still felt more modern than I would have expected. I am not sure if this will be a series or remain as a standalone. The ending is satisfying, but it still leaves room for a potential sequel. This was an interesting read and is great for those who love historical fantasy in an academic setting with a twist of mystery.
**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Simon and Schuster Books, for the opportunity to read this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed are completely my own.**