*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Black Witch
Author: Laurie Forest
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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. As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.
In The Black Witch, Elloren finds herself thrust into a world she never expected as the calm and quiet world she’s always known expands to reveal more than she could have ever imagined. This story of magic and of the struggles of race in a fantasy universe highlights the tragedy of ignorance and anger in the struggle to comprehend a system where racism is perpetuated at all levels of society. This first book in the series sees an equally ignorant Elloren begin to learn to understand the differences and similarities of those around her. Her views, established by her own family and the system that she grew up in, are closed and judging. She, of Gardnerian descent, comes into contact with people of many races–Lupine, Fae, Icarals, etc.–for the first time. Neither side welcomes the other with acceptance or trust.
The university is a place that is attempting to bring people of various cultural and racial backgrounds together. It is a place for ideas to come together and for the children to learn from one another and hopefully lessen the prejudice in their world. However, it becomes a breeding ground for hatred and intolerance. The resentment stems from all side, and none seem willing to concede that something should be done to change the persisting problem. Instead, Gardnerians hold the power and display open hostility to any other race, deemed by their religious text to be “the evil ones.”
While Elloren does, at first, display her own ignorance, touting the views that she’s been raised in, we’re immediately told that she recognizes that something is wrong with the system and the world she’s now thrust into. Great! I began to really hope for a sweeping change and some major action. Her transformation to understanding, however, took far too long, and she often backslides into her previously racist views far too often. I had a hard time understanding the strength of her conviction to her beliefs as they changed. While she does grow throughout the book, I don’t think that her path of growth was as well executed as it could have been. This first book really made me dislike Elloren, but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. What she really needs is the confidence to accept her situation and the openness and empathy to listen to those who are different than her.
What I enjoyed: Forest has built a really expansive universe full of diverse peoples and cultures that I desperately wanted to know more about. It’s hard to see through the hatred in this book, but my hope is that forthcoming books will more extensively explore the nuances and beauty of each culture represented as they are incredibly unique and vividly beautiful.
As well, the story has so much potential to be really kick ass. If the protagonist can get it together, she could bring together a great resistance and lead a group of open-minded, loving individuals to create a new reality for them to thrive in.
On the downside, I struggled with the pacing a lot in this story . This book is LONG AF, which is expected for a fantasy series, however, nothing of any real significance happens in book one. I kept reading and reading, hoping to be gripped by some amazing turn of events, yet the story remains pretty flat throughout. This gave me way to much time to get worked up about characterization. Time moves at a slow pace within the story so I was never quite sure exactly how much time was passing. It felt long because the book was so thick. As well, sometimes the scenes were short and abrupt, feeling awkward and clunky. They left me questioning what was happening and left me feeling unfulfilled by the scene previous.
What could have made this book better? Introducing new perspectives to start. It’s hard to have a book about race, where the racism is perpetuated by one particular group, and only share the perspective of your protagonist who is of this persecuting race. Sure, she’s learning and slowly becoming an ally (one can hope), but her perspective is still flawed. She comes from a position of privilege and so we, the readers, only experience her world through her eyes and there’s no way she’d ever have an inkling of comprehension for the struggles the other cultures have experienced. To balance this book out, it needed to be told from many perspectives. Or at least one other that is different from Elloren’s. We arent’ short of diverse characters and they’re all incredibly fascinating. I hope we can hear from them in the future!
This book may have a lot wrong with it, and a lot of it is problematic, but it also has a lot of potential. I’m on the fence with a 3 out of 5 star rating. I’m open to seeing where this series goes, but it’s not quite the inspiring epic that I’d hoped it would be.
I read the second book because I’d received a copy from HCC Frenzy, and it improved upon this first book. I grew to like Elloren in the second book. I’ll review that one for you another week, so keep your eyes peeled. 😉