Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching is a superb novel in which the things that lurk in the woods are not the worst monsters the heroine must face.
Immanuelle Moore leads a strict, quiet life in the commune of Bethel, where the word of the Prophet is law and conformity is the highest virtue. Her path isn’t easy: as a biracial girl born out of wedlock, her existence itself is shameful to her family, and she struggles to gain acceptance in their community.
One accidental foray into the forbidden Darkwood throws her life into turmoil, for there are witches in the wood, and they have a gift for Immanuelle: her dead mother’s journal. As the mystery of her birth — and the secrets of Bethel — unravel around her, danger rears up from unexpected corners, and everything she believed begins to fall apart.
Gothic novels are having a comeback right now, and The Year of the Witching is one of the best ones out there. Spooky and tense before we even meet the four monstrous witches in the Darkwood, it knows where the real horror is: Bethel. The puritanical community has a frenzied atmosphere that will be familiar to anyone who reads a lot about cults. One wrong move can doom you, and the majority of the action in the book is about the violence that can erupt in your own backyard.
The focus on the terrifying cult in Bethel doesn’t mean The Year of the Witching is a book without literal monsters, though. A deep vein of magic runs through the narrative and adds an extra layer of supernatural flair. The setting itself is strange, too: as much as you might expect a twist where Immanuelle escapes and finds herself in the 21st century, her world is not our own. The final threats she faces are genuinely scary and alien, and by the end, you’ll want to stay out of any woods you see.
The Year of the Witching is a fantastic choice for older teens and adults who crave dark, people-centric horror. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale or Mexican Gothic, this book has the same thriller-like tension. Pair it with a re-watch of The Crucible or The Witch for a creepy double-feature!
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