Audiobook Review: The Year of the Witching (Bethel #1)

Published July 21st 2020

Author: Alexis Henderson

Narrator: Brianna Colette

Audiobook Length: 11 hours 37 minutes

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

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.

The Year of the Witching is the first in a newer series. I debated to read this during the “spookier” months or just attempting it now while I thought of it, and now won out. In the town of Bethel, the people follow the Father, doing as the Prophet commands, and shun the Mother and her dark/evil presence in the Darkwood. Following the main character of Immanuelle, who was raised in Bethel after being born in the Darkwood, the story explores religion, racism, and the patriarchy.

Bethel is a place where the Prophet makes the rules, and the people follow. It is a puritanical society where men marry multiple wives and have many children. Immanuelle Moore is the child of her mother from Bethel who tried to leave only to return after Immanuelle was born and her father, an outsider of a different race. As her mother was cursed, Immanuelle sets to figure out the secrets surrounding her family and of Bethel. The plot sets into motion after Immanuelle finds herself in the Darkwood where she ends up encountering the witches she was warned about. Along for the ride are her best friend, Leah, and Ezra, the Prophet’s heir who questions the current way of life.

The writing keeps the atmosphere suspenseful with the cult-like events mixed with the darker historical setting. Along with the cult-feel, there are explorations into sexism and racism throughout the story. As a biracial woman, Immanuelle takes the reader on a journey of the life she experiences. The wording used by the author is a nice mix of historical and modern making it a very easy experience to follow everything. There are some moments where the writing is more poetic than others, so it is not quite consistent throughout, but it still was easy to follow. This was also a case in some smaller details with some inconsistencies in the financial status of Immanuelle’s family. One time they had a soup that mostly water and another she is throwing away crusts of bread instead of eating it herself. While these details were small, they did stick out in my mind.

There are some fantasy elements with the witches along with the religious-cult like community. As Ezra and Immanuelle represent different backgrounds in the community, together they provided two sides of the story. It was enjoyable to watch their relationship grow. While the romance developing between them is subtle, I liked how they had some natural progression. As this novel is part of a series, I wonder how their relationship will continue to grow. There are a lot of themes explored in the story as Immanuelle and Ezra work to discover the truth about their society and history. There are many dangers and obstacles along the way and their journey is not easy. Overall, this was a fascinating story. It gave a nice gothic horror-type vibe with a nice mystery surrounding the truth. There are some smaller elements that I felt could have used more exploration, so I’m curious how the sequel will continue the story.

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