A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Black Witch is the first book in a thought-provoking fantasy series. Through this world on the brink of a race war between Gardnerians (the closest to humans, with all the power), lupines, the brightly colored Urisk, elves, selkies, and bird/human-like Icarals, debut author Laurie Forest examines prejudice, privilege, and even how to study history -- from many perspectives beyond the dominant culture's take. Prepare for a few bloody moments, mostly with creatures like dragons and Icaral assassins stabbed through the heart with swords or getting their heads twisted off. When Gardnerians get injured -- with broken bones and stabbings -- they are magically healed. A selkie (seal/human-like shape-shifter) is abused by a man who held her captive, with talk of selkies being rounded up and sold as sex slaves for men. Other animals are abused, too: A dragon is shown after a heavy beating, barely alive (with talk that dragons are broken by letting them bond to a baby dragon and then killing that dragon in front of them; and a beloved pet chicken is found hung. The rest of the content is fairly mild for teen-focused fare: a few kisses and some inflammatory rumors about lupine mating behavior.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE BLACK WITCH, Elloren and her older brothers have lived with their uncle most of her life in an isolated, sleepy Gardnerian village. So she's thrilled when her uncle agrees to send her to university to become an apothecary. Before the start of school, though, her meddling Aunt Vyvian -- from the very conservative, very influential side of the family -- whisks Elloren away to the capital for an extreme makeover and a crash course in high-society etiquette. Elloren, who's the spitting image of her famously powerful mage grandmother, turns heads immediately, and Aunt Vyvian tries to use that to her advantage. She's determined to get Elloren wandfasted (engaged) to the handsome level-five mage Lukas Gray before university begins. She doesn't care that Elloren promised her uncle that she would wait to wandfast until after university. But even after Lukas saves Elloren from an assassination attempt on the way to university (by Icaral assassins scared that she will turn out just like her grandmother), Elloren still refuses to defy her uncle. So Vyvian decides to make Elloren's life as miserable as possible for her. For starters, she refuses to pay Elloren's tithe, so Elloren has to work in the kitchens with Urisk laborers who despise her for looking like her grandmother, the cause of their oppression. But that's not the worst of it: Elloren's stuck in a dorm with the only two Icarals on campus. These bird-like creatures with black wings are said to curse you with their stare, and on Elloren's first night she's locked in the closet with one of her new roomies scratching on the door, threatening to kill her.
Is it any good?
This overlong but engaging tale highlighting racial tension and prejudice between the Gardnerians -- the ruling magical "chosen people" -- and other oppressed races resonates with our times. Civically engaged teen readers looking for parallels to today's social movements and the world's ongoing strife will find much food for thought here. Those who'd rather focus on the characters will enjoy Elloren and feel for her struggle to stay true to herself, find romance, and find her place in the world. Her naiveté and fear of other races at the beginning of The Black Witch is understandable given her environment, and her growth as a character into someone who senses her own power to change things, with or without a wand in her hand, is admirable.
This series is off to a fine start but could have used one last purge of 100 pages or so. There are too many scenes in the kitchen, too many furtive glances between Elloren and Yvan -- we get it, he's mysterious and hot -- and there's too much time setting up Elloren's first few horrible days at the university. With Cassandra Clare's fantasies sometimes clocking in at 700-plus pages, most editors probably don't bat an eye when YA books overdo. But new writers and their editors would do well to take their time to make a story truly great.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about history in The Black Witch. What does Elloren think about her grandmother's role in history at the beginning of the book? How does her perspective change? How does her behavior toward those of different races change?
When you read about history, are you as inquisitive as Elloren? If you don't have a teacher who encourages you to look deeper into history the way Elloren does, where do you think you can find out more about different views?
Will you keep reading this series? What do you think is next for Elloren and her friends?
- Author: Laurie Forest
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Harlequin Teen
- Publication date: May 2, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 17
- Number of pages: 608
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
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