RATING – 4/5
I read a review somewhere that called this a cross between ‘ The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘The Salem Witch Trials’ and that is not far off. This is a dark and grim fantasy novel with strong paranormal overtones and deals with very real issues like feminism, misogyny, religion, oppression and power.
I am a sucker for anything witches, so naturally, this climbed up my TBR pile fairly quickly. The story is set in a dated and dystopian village called Bethel that is ruled by the Church and its very problematic prophet with extremely patriarchal and puritanical leanings. Bethel is surrounded by an ominous and forbidden forest called the Darkwoods where four powerful witches reside. To enter the woods is to lose yourself to the witches and never return sane. Our heroine Immanuelle Moore lives in the outskirts of the town, shunned by most because of her mother’s scandalous union with an outsider of a different race and so she gives it her best to try and lead a quiet, submissive life full of poverty. But comes into the limelight as she catches the eye of the prophet’s charismatic son Ezra, soon events occur that forces her to step into the ‘Darkwoods’ where she encounters the four extremely spooky and dark witches who present her with her mother’s diary filled with details about her time in the woods with the witches. The journal foretells an apocalypse with BLOOD, BLIGHT, DARKNESS, SLAUGHTER. Soon Immanuelle with the help of Ezra tries to stop these events from occurring while discovering the lies and the corruption of the church.
First things first, the book was so atmospheric, it was dark, gritty, edgy and spooky. All the imagery the book invoked was eerie and harsh. I absolutely loved all the witchiness, it had just the right amount of horror blended in. The four witches of the darkwood were amazingly creepy. My only gripe, I wanted more, more history of the witches, more witches in the now instead you get a very big dose of tyrannical religious dudes. Don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t bad either, the prophet made for a terrific villain, there was absolutely nothing redeeming about him. The society set by the church is highly sexist and women sacrificing and suffering is its very core. The prophet’s terrible hypocrisy and abuse unfairly dons a religious garb and practices all sorts of atrocities like child brides and sexual abuse.
I kept waiting to discover that the four witches banished in the Darkwoods are not actually evil but powerful women that threatened the church’s rule. But no, they turn out to be evil too and that was super disappointing. I think the book should have developed the other characters a bit more and focused on the prophet a bit less. I would have loved to know more about Immanuelle’s family, and hence understood her motivations a bit more and this definitely needed to be more feelgood and powerful witchy and less religious dudes mansplaining.
Having spewed all that I liked and all that I didn’t, I have to say that I loved the writing, I devoured the book quickly and I can’t wait for the author’s next book.