People who know me know I don’t LOVE fantasy, but since this was a class assignment, I decided to shoot for a fantasy/sci-fi novel that would fit my other interests. The Black Witch has been on my radar for awhile and I actually bought the Kindle edition when it was on sale awhile back, but I remembered that it was set at a boarding school and I was under the (unfortunately wrong) impression it was a 2 book series, so I picked it up.
Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the great Black Witch, the hero mage who saved the Gardnerian people during the last war and gave her life to an Icaral so they could be free, etc. Elloren’s parents also died in the fighting, so she’s been raised by her eccentric Uncle, a violin-maker, who has raised her and her brothers to be independent and hasn’t pushed Elloren to wand-fast, or marry essentially, another mage. But then Elloren’s aunt Vyvian comes to town, and she’s got other plans for Elloren, who looks JUST like her grandmother but has no magical power to speak of. That includes wandfasting to a very powerful man, Lukas Grey, and a stint at the university, where she’ll study to be an apothecary. But Elloren gets off on a bad foot when she refuses to fast to Lukas and her aunt proves her power by sticking Elloren with a nasty kitchen assignment and in squalor living conditions with 2 Icarals: who Elloren has been taught are pure evil. But things are not what they seem, or what Elloren has been taught at least. The different cultures of Erthia are not quite as awful as the Gardnerians have taught their children. It’s classic racism and otherism and yes, Elloren comes off as naive and kind of dumb about the world, but it’s kind of realistic, unfortunately. A lot of privileged people don’t realize the racism they’ve been taught until they are out in the real world and confronted with people, though not werewolves (Lupines, in the novel) that aren’t as bad as they’ve been taught.
As Elloren makes friends with the “undesirables” of the university, she is forced to confront a major bully, Fallon Bane, rumored to be the next Black Witch because of her power, and Elloren’s new sworn enemy because of her major crush on Lukas Grey. Fallon won’t stand for Elloren getting in the way of her wandfasting and isn’t afraid to use her power to torment her. As Elloren learns the truth of the world around her, she starts taking action to defend those she cares about and stand up to the government that is threatening them all.
I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I’ve heard concerns raised about how they’re way too long. This book kind of suffered from that. It was great to see the world building of the university but there were huge chunks where the narrative entirely forgot about Lukas and Fallon, topics that dominated the first half of the book. And then, by the end, you realize that a lot of things have been packed into the end (like theft, hidden creatures, new revelations about heritage, etc) that aren’t ever wrapped up because they’re moved to book two. The tagline on the front of the book never really comes to fruition either…though maybe it’s for later books.
This book is very readable-even if it’s long. Elloren reads like a teenager/young adult and everyone feels realistic. The setting is also well-developed and I really enjoyed the classroom discussions and how Elloren had to do a work-study, basically. If teens like fantasy with good world building but don’t want to read lots of sex (aka SJM) then this is a good pick for them. They’re sexual tension and some violence but nothing too grotesque.
Teens will enjoy this book if they like magical creatures of all sorts (witches and werewolves and dragons and selkies) as well as boarding school settings with the trappings you find in the early Harry Potter books. There’s no huge battle against good and evil in this one, but it’s building up for something like that in the second book and beyond.
So far there is a second book out and two thick novellas telling related stories that are being bound into a paperback for publication this March. Brief research into the series returned conflicting reports: there will be either two or four more books in the series.