The Black Witch: The Black Witch Chronicles, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Black Witch: The Black Witch Chronicles, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Overlong but engaging fantasy tackles prejudice.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While the history of this fantasy world is not ours, this story reminds readers the best way to study any history: from many perspectives. It shows how biases and prejudices can form and how fear and divisiveness is used as a tool for warmongers. Also, readers can compare the author's magical world with other magical worlds in books.

Positive Messages

Casts a critical eye on prejudice and the militaristic idea of "dominate or be dominated by" those who are different from you. One character declares, "People see what they expect to see ... through a filter of their own hatred and prejudice." Diverse groups come together and fight against an unjust and oppressive regime.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elloren starts out naive about the world and her people's place in it. When confronted with another side to history, instead of becoming defensive, she chooses to educate herself on other perspectives. She also feels remorse and apologizes for her ignorance. What she gains in return: a loyal and diverse set of friends and allies.

Violence

Some bloody moments, mostly with creatures like dragons and bird/human-hybrid-like Icaral assassins stabbed through the heart with swords or getting their heads twisted off. When Gardnerians (closest to humans) get injured -- broken bones and stabbings -- they are magically healed. A selkie (seal/human-like shape-shifter) is abused by a man who held her captive (whip marks all over her body) with talk of selkies being rounded up and sold as sex slaves for men. Other animals abused: 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. Some skirmishes with wand magic, slapping, with racial slurs and threats yelled. Talk of the main character's family dying in the war, and many stories of mass killings of different races during wars: all the boys and men from one group, while enslaving all the women, and children suffering working as slave laborers. One story of a fae (fairy) toddler being slammed into a wall in a prison.

Sex

Some kisses, lots of smoldering glances, and salacious rumors, especially about how the wolf-human shape-shifter lupines choose a mate. They mention women being dragged off and mated with in the woods as wolves and packs mating in front of children -- all just talk in the end.

Language

Swearing is rare but includes "bitch" and versions of "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Talk of soldiers drinking.

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.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byShrut.564 July 16, 2018
Teen, 14 years old Written byMayberry June 13, 2018

The Black Witch

I did not like this book. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. The story line in the first place was horrible.

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?

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