Critics are raving about Laurie Forests incredible debut, The Black Witch:
“Elloren learns to question authority and Gardnerian history, while developing real empathy for different races and species. Forest uses a richly imagined magical world to offer an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice.” —Booklist, starred review
“Exquisite character work, an elaborate mythology, and a spectacularly rendered universe make this a noteworthy debut, which argues passionately against fascism and xenophobia.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This briskly paced, tightly plotted novel enacts the transformative power of education, creating engaging characters set in a rich alternative universe with a complicated history that can help us better understand our own.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.
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.
From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—It is one thing to be the granddaughter of Carnissa Gardner, the legendary Black Witch, but it’s another to be the spitting image of her. Elloren Gardner discovers this from the moment she is uprooted from her uncle’s secluded house and enrolled at Verpax University, which is rumored to be “racially integrated,” to Elloren’s great shock (Elloren shares her aunt’s opinion that the integration is “misguided”). While outwardly resembling a bildungsroman, albeit a fantasy one, this novel features a protagonist who remains naive for far too long and, unfortunately, is painfully slow to confront the racist attitudes that she has inherited and that are essential to Gardnerian dominance. By the book’s end, readers will wonder if she has learned anything at all. Teens will have to get through hundreds of pages of stereotypical characterizations of marginalized groups (non-Gardnerians are hateful and ultraviolent, their blood is “polluted,” they mate like animals, the non-Gardnerian women are trying to steal Gardnerian men, etc.) before Elloren begins to recognize that maybe Gardnerians are the bad guys in her realm. Although unlearning prejudices is a timely theme in YA, Forest handles this issue clumsily. In a particularly rough, tone-deaf scene, mean girl Fallon berates Effrey, a purple-skinned enslaved Urisk girl. Elloren eventually comes to the rescue, and Sparrow, another enslaved girl, approves of her actions with a smile—just one of the many white savior—like moments throughout. The world-building also leaves a lot to be desired: the Gardnerian creation story is an almost verbatim retelling of Genesis, and there are sporadic, vague mentions of martial arts and elemental spirits in this otherwise “Harry Potter” meets Tolkien universe. VERDICT Poor writing and character development contribute to an overall uneven handling of race and racism in a fantasy setting.—Della Farrell, School Library Journal
”This briskly paced, tightly plotted novel enacts the transformative power of education, creating engaging characters set in a rich alternative universe with a complicated history that can help us better understand our own. A massive page-turner that leaves readers longing for more.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
”Forest uses a richly imagined magical world to offer an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice.” —Booklist, starred review
”Exquisite character work, an elaborate mythology, and a spectacularly rendered universe make this a noteworthy debut, which argues passionately against fascism and xenophobia.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
”I absolutely loved The Black Witch and will have a very hard time waiting for the second book! Maximum suspense, unusual magic — a whole new, thrilling approach to fantasy!” –Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Times bestselling author
”We fell under the spell of this rich, diverse, Potter-worthy university world!
Characters that come alive off the page, tangled relationships, swoonworthy romance!
Love the fresh way this also tackles prejudice. Prepare to fangirl!” —Justine magazine
”The Black Witch is a refreshing, powerful young adult fantasy. This strong debut offers an uncompromising glimpse of world-altering politics amplified by a magical setting in which prejudice and discrimination cut both ways.” –Robin Hobb, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Top customer reviews
I was especially interested in checking out this book after seeing it unfairly trashed on Goodreads, mostly by people who haven’t read it. Are there racist themes in this book? Yes. But people are acting like this book is a hate crime, and they’re completely missing the point. Fiction is supposed to make you uncomfortable at times, and your characters need room to grow.
The story revolves around a naive (but flawed) Elloren, whose harsh opinions of other races are the product of how she was raised. As the descendant of a famous witch, 17-year-old Elloren escapes marriage (or rather, the “wandfasting” ritual) and attends university instead, where she encounters many fantastical races. Obvious comparisons will be made to Harry Potter, but the world in “The Black Witch” felt totally unique to me. While it’s not quite as addictive as Harry Potter, I thought it was imaginative and thrilling. Harry Potter was not without its share of prejudice either. Had it been published on 2017, would readers be offended by “mudblood?” One of the complaints about this book was the use of the word “half-breed” to describe certain races. I’m a mixed race reader, but I saw no reason to be offended. It was just the harsh reality of Elloren’s world.
All in all, I thought it was an enjoyable magical adventure. While it’s not without its flaws, if you keep an open mind, the dialogue and world-building really pull you in. I look forward to reading the author’s next work.
After generations of subjugation and enslavement by the Urisk and Kelts, the Gardnerians , by the strength of their dark horse champion, the Black Witch herself, overthrew their masters and became the great power in the region. And in fifteen short years became the subjugaters and enslavers in their turn. Elloren’s parents died in that war; she’s grown up in an increasingly powerful and religiously orthodox Gardneria. Which is where our story begins. Their xenophobia, dogma, and intolerance is all Elloren has ever known…
Until she goes to a foreign university and encounters others: Kelts and Urisk to be sure, but also Lupines (werewolves) and Elves, even Icarals, the dreaded winged-people. And ideas. Ideas different from and threatening to the culture she grew up in. Ideas that gradually teach her to see the world for how it truly is.
The Black Witch is an astonishingly quick read for 601 pages because it’s so artfully well-written, a true page-turner! And the messages of overcoming bigotry, embracing diversity, and standing up to injustice however it presents itself, are vital ones for tweens, teens and adults of all persuasions. I wholeheartedly and unabashedly recommend The Black Witch for everybody!