The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch

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 magic...

Title:The Black Witch
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:601 pages

The Black Witch Reviews

  • Robin Hobb

    College or University. A time when almost every student discovers that a) not everyone believes what you believe and b) some of what you know is wrong.

    The Black Witch captures that time in the protagonist's life as Elloren leaves the shelter of her rustic uncle's home and goes off to school under the guidance of her politically power aunt. Elloren has been 'wand-tested' for magic and found lacking, despite the family lineage of powerful mages. She is still a potentially powerful pawn for her aun

    College or University. A time when almost every student discovers that a) not everyone believes what you believe and b) some of what you know is wrong.

    The Black Witch captures that time in the protagonist's life as Elloren leaves the shelter of her rustic uncle's home and goes off to school under the guidance of her politically power aunt. Elloren has been 'wand-tested' for magic and found lacking, despite the family lineage of powerful mages. She is still a potentially powerful pawn for her aunt's ambitions, but only if she surrenders her independence and knuckles to her aunt's threats and bribes . . .

    This is a strong 'first novel' YA entry by Laurie Forest. It excels at depicting realistically how we react when we confront prejudices, our own and others. The 'come to realize' moment is powerful and graphic. Elloren is a believable protagonist in her sometimes painful growth towards accepting the truth. If you enjoy tales of both magic and coming of age and going off to school, this book will satisfy all three of those flavors.

  • Georgina

    What is wrong with you people, now we are commanding artists what they can't and can write in FANTASY just so we wouldn't get triggered?? Don't read it if you can't deal with cruel, sad and dark themes. But you don't get to tell someone they are racist just because they choose to depict a world in which racism is very much alive!? What's the point of that? Are we going to ban history books next?? She writes her story, she created her flawed characters and her flawed world just as ours is, and th

    What is wrong with you people, now we are commanding artists what they can't and can write in FANTASY just so we wouldn't get triggered?? Don't read it if you can't deal with cruel, sad and dark themes. But you don't get to tell someone they are racist just because they choose to depict a world in which racism is very much alive!? What's the point of that? Are we going to ban history books next?? She writes her story, she created her flawed characters and her flawed world just as ours is, and there's room there to fix that world, too, for her characters to grow and learn! This reaction is outrageous! This is censorship!! Now we are telling others what is acceptable in arts and what not just because you can't deal with some harsh themes?? Unbelievable.

    You know what's offensive? Throwing around such harsh words every time something's not acceptable to you! And some people are here losing their mind and calling the author despicable names and they didn't even read the freaking book!! Are you not capable of forming your own opinion?

    This book had been receiving amazing reviews and then a couple of people found if racist and now EVERYONE finds it racist!?!? This is an on-growing trend, so I've noticed, something similar happened to Veronica Roth! Some are even rewriting their reviews. It doesn't work like that!! If you didn't find it offensive and racists the first time you read it without any judgement then guess what? It probably isn't racist to you!

    And what if it does show racist behavior?? So what? Can't we show such things in books? Jesus Christ. God forbid we dealt with racist themes and violence towards women, God forbid we wrote about racist communities, God forbid we wrote about worlds where women aren't as strong as men. It would be just a bit - REALISTIC! You people can't deal with FANTASY, much less real life. And then there are some who simply just go looking for isms and phobias in every freaking book they read and comment they see. That's borderline sick.

    Hell, even Sarah J. Maas gets called on being racist and not ''diverse enough''. She even gets attacked for ''forcing her obviously gay character into a submissive straight relationship''. Because YOU wrote and know her characters, right? Do you people hear yourself? This is getting seriously out of hand! Who are you to demand such things from other people's works of art!? Who are you to tell authors that they don't have enough ''diverse characters'' and that they HAVE TO have gay, black, white, whatever type of characters? Who are you to tell them they can't have racist characters or create a bad, bad world? If my magical world is all white, all black, all gay, all straight, all unicorns, all hate, and all racism, I have the right to make it that way, and you know what, it doesn't make me racist! It makes you incapable of dealing with life, this real one here.

    20 years ago, J.K. Rowling created a world with racism in it. She created racist, xenophobic, hateful characters. And many are, dare I say hypocritically, adored by our generation. The only difference being, she didn't make her protagonist have 'racist' views. She chose the easier path. Black and white, morally speaking. But people are not black and white! Many learn, many grow, many are raised in such cultures and are conditioned to be that way, the way the main character in this book is. It would be UNREALISTIC if she were any other way!! And she isn't even racist, she's just a flawed young girl in a cruel world!

    Let the characters be flawed, let the worlds be dark, you know better, or at least you should! Let them learn, for crying out loud, that's only human. Let yourself see into different mindsets even when they are wrong, learn, don't be so narrow-minded yourself. Books shouldn't be perfect, characters shouldn't be perfect, worlds shouldn't be perfect! They should be the way authors want them to be, and you should be mature enough to handle it and learn to be critical without losing your shit and seeing things even when they aren't even there!

    What you are doing here is ruining the artistry! In a couple of years, all we'll be reading will be cardboard material!! Because authors will be afraid of getting labeled with some freaking ism. You are restricting people's imagination and their craft! You are restricting yourself!

    Poor Laurie Forest. Poor authors these days. We live in a censorship that our younger generations are forcing upon everyone! Funnily enough, they are the same ones who preach freedom of speech and #nojudgement. Grow up!

  • Cait • A Page with a View

    I don't give a lot of one star ratings, so I want to really take the time to explain why. I wanted to call this book a DNF many times, but pushed through so I could give a full overview of the plot (so, yes, there WILL BE SPOILERS). 

    And to clarify: yes, I do get that the main character’s racist perspective is obviously supposed to be an attempt to highlight the horrible views of those who raised her. Yes, I get that this book is probably supposed to be some allegory of white oppression and the s

    I don't give a lot of one star ratings, so I want to really take the time to explain why. I wanted to call this book a DNF many times, but pushed through so I could give a full overview of the plot (so, yes, there WILL BE SPOILERS). 

    And to clarify: yes, I do get that the main character’s racist perspective is obviously supposed to be an attempt to highlight the horrible views of those who raised her. Yes, I get that this book is probably supposed to be some allegory of white oppression and the story of a naive, sheltered girl overcoming internalized prejudice. I will address all of this in a bit.

    Ok so brief (ha, lies. nothing here will be brief) overview of the story first:

    Elloren and her brothers are basically Gardnerian royalty because their grandfather six generations back was the founder of Gardneria and her grandmother was the Black Witch who "saved" them by killing thousands who had oppressed the Gardnerians (the true story of what went down doesn't come in until the end of the book). Point is, her grandmother was actually horrible but Elloren's been raised on the rhetoric of the oppressors. 

    Elloren's living with her uncle in a small town because he's trying to keep her powers a secret and away from the schemes of her aunt & the Council. It's obvious to the reader that Elloren has her grandmother's super special power, but Elloren actually doesn't find out in this book. She is the definition of clueless and spends most of the book walking around wide-eyed & confused like she was born yesterday.

    The Gardnerian religion has a ton of power and wants kids to get wandfasted (basically an arranged marriage) as young teens. One day Elloren is in the woods and her friend Sage who was banished for fast-breaking shows up and gives Elloren the White Wand from legend, which is a super special wand that will probably matter in the next book’s plot. But definitely not here.

    Elloren’s aunt is determined to have her wandfasted to Lukas Gray, the most handsome and eligible guy ever, but the uncle sends Elloren to university and makes her promise not to wandfast to anyone for two years. The aunt is a LOT like Mrs. Coulter from The Golden Compass with how Elloren is desperate for a maternal figure's approval and grateful for the glamorous life the aunt offers, but then slowly realizes she’s not a good person and wants nothing to do with it.

    While Elloren's staying with her aunt, she goes to get some clothes for school with

    Fallon Bane, the girl who’s predicted to be the next Black Witch. She’s like

    stereotype of a mean girl x10000… she’s ridiculously cruel to Elloren nonstop throughout the story and her motivation is overly simplistic.

    There’s a ball next and Fallon makes it clear she’s determined to be wandfasted to the perfect Lukas Gray. Buuut then Elloren plays her violin, Lukas senses power in her, and suddenly he's kissing her and obviously wants to be wandfasted to her for his own means. But Elloren is clueless. She also meets some other people at the ball, like a creepy priest who wants the Council to elect him as High Mage so he can make sure everyone’s racial purity is tested (by iron to rule out fae blood) and they’re all wandfasted by 18.

    Then all of the kids go to magic school, where Elloren continues to spew her racist nonsense. The school is made up of Kelts, Elves, fae in disguise, Icarals with wings, and a couple Lupine. There are characters with literally every color skin like pink, lavender, or green. And it seems like a typical fantasy book except now everyone's reduced to their race in the most simplistic way (and even referred to that way... forgive me if I end up doing the same in this review because that was literally


    Elloren wasn't aware of how feared and hated her family was until everyone who sees her freaks out because she looks just like her grandmother. She proceeds to use this as proof as to why they're all horrible like she's been taught. The story goes to absolutely absurd lengths to put her in sad situations... like Fallon keeps harassing and tripping her with magic, her coworkers in the kitchen physically abuse and mock her, and she's assigned to live in a remote tower with a girl who tries to kill her the first night. She’s stuck, though, because her uncle is suddenly sick and her aunt is making sure the school keeps her in a horrible job and housing until she agrees to be wandfasted to Lukas Gray. So power is offered to Elloren via a man but she refuses… and I am not impressed because there is nothing to root for in this main character.

    The story just tries so, so hard to make her the underdog:

    The next couple hundred pages could be summed up as: everyone hates everyone else. Gardnerian and Kelt students won't go into a classroom where a Lupine student is sitting, the Lupine twins hate the Gardnerians, apparently the Icaral hate the Lupine, and on and on. I could honestly fill a review with the horrific things Elloren goes around thinking and saying about everyone, so I’ll just leave a couple examples and move on:


    - She keeps calling people “half-breeds” even though she gets indignant at the “slur” when someone refers to her that way… so she knows it’s wrong


    - When Elloren's brother tells her he's gay, she replies

    Elloren lives with two Icarals named Ariel and Wynter. Ariel was thrown in a cage as a child and is addicted to berries that were used to sedate her, but Ellen is devoid of any compassion or understanding about Ariel’s mental health. The Gardnerians "view meeting the gaze of a winged one to be spiritually polluting" and need to be exorcised by a priest afterward, so Elloren’s friends avoid visiting her room and recommend Elloren go to evening service with them to exorcise her roommates. One day Ariel tries to actually show up to class and

    It’s just painful to read.

    The particular situation above ends up being about how Elloren didn't laugh and how Yvan (cute Keltic kitchen coworker dude) really sees her for the first time! He’s spent most of the book glaring at Elloren in fifty shades of anger… his sole method of communication is his “stormy eyes.” OBVIOUSLY this is the love interest. There is zero chemistry or feels there, but that’s the least of this book’s issues.

    On page 291 Elloren’s upset because the entire world is out to get her, so the priest reassures her that

    and to stay strong because the Golden Age is coming where the Black Witch will

    Elloren's only thought is for herself:

    The behavior of Elloren’s coworkers and Fallon is such an absurd over-the-top caricature of cruelty that it didn’t even feel like girl hate anymore… it just felt like bad writing.

    Elloren’s self-centered, oblivious POV was infuriating to read through because she has no sense whatsoever and her entire petty personality can be summed up as weak self-pity. So many of her thoughts and actions make no sense at all. Plus, she reads more like she’s 12 than 17. I'm not sure if the reader is meant to hate her or not, but there is truly nothing likable about her.

    On page 302 Elloren wonders if Ariel is completely evil or not. And she realizes she doesn't know. She doesn't start really considering that the "Evil One" stuff in her religion MIGHT be wrong until page 350… but then she still continues to be dumb. When Yvan of the Glares lets her know that her Gardnerian clothes are made by slave labor she thinks he’s lying and is all:

    So Elloren goes to the priest and

    Elloren thinks something there

    be biased, so she asks a Keltic professor who gives her the truth. She returns to learn more history, like how her people are actually "half-breeds polluted by Fae blood" and why wandfasting and the banishment of unfaithful women is now customary. The professor mentions that the Icarals probably have some wyvern blood instead of demon and

    He tells her the history of how her grandmother wanted to kill everyone who wasn't Gardnerian and expresses hope that the future will be one of shared resources and equality but says it will come down to the choices of individuals. 


    Meanwhile, Ariel burns Elloren’s favorite possession, so Lukas Gray tortures and kills Ariel’s pet chicken. I think it’s supposed to be some turning point for Elloren when she steals Ariel a new chicken? The next couple hundred pages are cringeworthy efforts for the students from different cultures to try to understand the religions and customs of other students they're hesitantly talking to. There are SIX pages of "uncomfortably blunt questions" about Lupine mating, with both parties judging the other for stuff that feels iffy at best (like marrying young). The writing is just extremely clunky, juvenile, and awkward at times.

    Eventually her friend Aislinn has the breakthrough of

    But even after that there are still intolerant comments galore. And I wasn’t huge on how they only started to potentially tolerate others because of a few cute guys or when people were nice


    Then there's a hint that Elloren has some magical connection with wood. But that will probably come up in a sequel. Other cliche fantasy ideas are scattered around without any relevance to this particular book... there really isn't a plot here.

    Elloren’s group of friends has expanded by page 415, but she still warns Jarod (one of the Lupine twins) that a romance with Aislinn would tear her from her Gardnerian family.

    A few pages later she's thinking

    Then Aislinn visits with her big family and Elloren is judging everyone right and left:

    SO many of her thoughts are just WHYYYYY.

    More nonsense happens. Then Elloren catches onto the fact that there might be something more to Yvan than meets the eye because of his super speed, super strength, etc. She follows him into the woods and it’s all very Twilight. He refuses to tell her anything (and later claims she’s imagined it all), but Elloren just thinks “somehow I know

    Yvan takes her to where some dragons are kept in cages. Then they find a Selkie woman who was being kept by a guy as a sex slave and horribly abused… Elloren’s only thought is

    She proceeds to rescue the Selkie in a drawn out plot point that's clearly supposed to be some huge gold star for her. It’s just white savior stuff all around. This whole bit with how the women can’t defend themselves or seek help from the law was pretty horrific and handled really poorly and I just can’t even get into it right now.

    Basically the story meanders around and any momentum gets lost towards the end. A lot of characters drop off the face of the earth in the second half and all of the actual plot with the council is just distant news. Page 547 is Elloren’s first and only true apology (to a woman who works in the kitchen with her):

    She also tells a little girl that she “didn’t want to be mean” and that she isn’t anymore. And that’s that, folks.


    The creepy priest guy from the start is then elected Head Mage of the Council and sets his plans into gear. Elloren and her friends will have to be wandfasted by spring and the racial purity of their families will be tested as well. So they go to free some of the army's dragons, which is just a brief, poorly written mess. It's like there needed to be some action at the end, so… ready, set, GO. After they free some random dragons, Lukas Gray sends Elloren a creepy necklace and message that he'll be back soon (because he was gone along with the rest of the plot). Wynter warns Elloren to be careful about the necklace, but she just puts it on and replies she knows what she's doing.

    So… she’s still not too bright.

    On the last page Elloren goes back to talk to the Keltic professor and the Vice Chancellor comes in to say she'll cover for the dragon-freeing miscreants. She welcomes Elloren to the resistance and THE END. I guess the next book will actually get into the plot about the White Wand, Elloren's power, the Resistance (because we saw hints of maps and plans at one point), and the whole... story? This entire story could be summed up as “girl in a wide-eyed trance acts like an idiot for 600 pages.” There was seriously nothing to support and the whole plot got pushed to the sequel.

    It also felt like a children’s book talking down to the reader at times with how clear things were to everyone except Elloren. But I don’t even want to spend more time complaining about the poor execution & writing, the weak and petty characters, how simplistic everything was, etc because it just doesn’t matter when compared to the fact this was hundreds of pages of unchecked hatred and intolerance.

    There is no excuse, but even if you were somehow still looking for a redemption arc… there really wasn’t one! I cannot explain how weak the story became in the end. I barely saw the growth that was implied and the entire plot turned into distant background chatter. I mean, the Fall Tournament sounded cool. So did Elloren’s dream to be an apothecary that was mentioned on the back cover. But school was mostly a vehicle for a montage of hateful scenes.

    Also, there were hundreds and hundreds of pages of absolutely horrible comments before Elloren even began to think that

    she could be wrong. Sitting through a single one of those sentences is harmful and it’s all done SO carelessly. I barely even mentioned any of the problematic comments but they were on almost every page and just kept getting worse.

    . I get that the author was trying to provide ample room for character growth here by having the character start out so ignorant. I’m not misunderstanding the intent; I’m saying it

    did not work in this case. I get that this first book is setting up the rest of the series and the author wanted Elloren to unlearn what she’s been taught first, but I don’t think the way it’s approached is remotely acceptable.

    The entire book turned into a narrative on racism and prejudice but felt offensively hollow because the Elves, Lupine, etc are obviously “others.” The book needed waaaaay more worldbuilding in order to parallel racism in a way that’s not so incredibly irresponsible and ignorant. I thought the simplistic way that everyone hated each other (and even Elloren’s flimsy “awakening”)

    <—- that is probably my main thought. Sorry it took so long to get there.

    Anyways, it was PAINFUL to read. I know the author didn't

    to be hurtful and so irresponsible with her writing, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is. This book is coming from a major publisher. Why didn’t this stick out to anyone else? We do not want to sit through 600 pages of the MC coming to learn that “racism is bad.” I hit the character limit in my review and can't elaborate on this but ughh we live in a world with enough hate. Let’s have fantasy worlds where readers can see themselves instead of feeling even more alienated and hurt. If you already feel like an "other" in reality, this book is just pain on top of pain.

    And for the people who say "it's just fiction, relax” (because I know I’ll get comments

    No. Fiction shapes how we view our world, ourselves, and everyone around us. There is no disconnect.

    I didn't go into this book intending to "hate read." I was genuinely excited for it and at first thought it was a new favorite book with hints of favorite fantasy worlds.


    It's kind of hard to be one of the first reviewers because there's nothing to gauge your reaction against and people who were excited about the book get angry that you've "ruined" it. I've only seen a few reviews so far from actual readers and they mostly adore this book. So all I can do is share my honest reaction and then wait for any discussion to unfold…


  • Shauna

    Before I get into this review wholeheartedly, I want to address the supporters of this book. Yes, I read the whole thing. Yes, I understand that it's supposed to be a redemption story in which deeply seated prejudices are uprooted and the main character learns

    Before I get into this review wholeheartedly, I want to address the supporters of this book. Yes, I read the whole thing. Yes, I understand that it's supposed to be a redemption story in which deeply seated prejudices are uprooted and the main character learns. But here's the thing. She doesn't learn. Even with 100, 50, 30, pages left, Elloren Gardner was still saying and doing racist things. Additionally, it takes 350+ pages before that redemption arc even starts, and those pages before it are filled with some of the most vile hatred and vitriol I've ever seen from a protagonist.

    This book was ultimately written for white people. It was written for the type of white person who considers themselves to be not-racist and thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating PoC like they are actually human. It holds no regard to the feelings of marginalized people, which is evident in the way that the book portrays racism, homophobia, and ableism.

  • Emily May

    I don't really know where to start with this book. I recommend that everyone make themselves aware of the criticisms surrounding

    , if you are not already. And also be aware that this review is my opinion;

    . If you have a problem with that, don't read on.

    is, in my opinion,

    , and

    I don't really know where to start with this book. I recommend that everyone make themselves aware of the criticisms surrounding

    , if you are not already. And also be aware that this review is my opinion;

    . If you have a problem with that, don't read on.

    is, in my opinion,

    , and the way upbringing and family can play into our narrow view of the world. Elloren is the narrator, and a Gardnerian, with her own set of bigoted ideas about the other creatures in Erthia - Fae, Lupines, Urisks, Icarals, etc. - who, in turn, have been brought up to believe in all the negative Gardnerian stereotypes.

    It's a magic boarding school book, which I personally love. It is like Harry Potter, if Rowling had paused to more deeply explore the prejudice held by supposedly "pure blood" witches and wizards. And, unlike Harry Potter, Elloren is not special and does not save everyone. The author places emphasis on the power of cooperation and teamwork, suggesting we are at our strongest when we work together.

    Really, it is about the power - the utter

    - of education. Universities, in both the world of

    and in our own, bring together people from all different backgrounds. They are the ultimate melting pots that allow people to expand their minds beyond the confines of the small world they are used to. Forest uses this to show how important multiculturalism is - how it fosters understanding and empathy.

    If you don't want to read ANY on-page prejudice, I respect that, and this book isn't for you. It shows misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and racism (even if the races are pink-skinned elves or werewolves) in order to offer social criticism on it. I should point out, though, that all of these things are repeatedly portrayed as inherently wrong, and this book is as sexist as

    , or as racist as


    Many people who have blacklisted this book have said that readers read to feel good; to escape the darkness of the real world. And that is fine, but it’s not me. I read to feel. I read to question. I read to think, dream, explore and understand. If a book makes me sad or angry, it’s probably a new favourite. I don’t expect books to convince me that everything is sunshine and roses, and happily ever after is real - in fact, I’m skeptical of people selling that bullshit. Life is complex and messy and nasty. Just like this book.

    I personally don't agree that the bigotry portrayed isn't challenged, as I've seen some others note. It is most directly challenged in the second half of this book, but even in the first half, it is clear that we are meant to question it. From the very moment Elloren leaves her small town life behind, she questions her aunt's insistence that the Selkies aren't human:

    Perhaps it is too subtle for some readers that nobody comes out screaming "prejudice!", but the author clearly presents all the races as complex and sympathetic. When Echo expresses disgust towards a Lupine man, Elloren notes the "hurt in his eyes".

    And here are some more quotes:

    The challenge to prejudice is most evident when you consider that all the main antagonists are the most shamelessly bigoted. In fact, this was the part I liked least.

    . I'm sure the author made this decision to try to avoid any confusion over her stance against racism, and I feel a little bad for her that she probably cannot win, but it was disappointing to have such mindlessly cruel individuals in a sea of otherwise well-developed, multilayered characters.

    To present this as merely a book about a girl who learns to humanize those of other races seems reductive, when all the races in question have a

    that are deconstructed over the course of the novel. Everyone is difficult and weird and jealous and vindictive and moody and... aren't we all? It would be so very easy to reduce prejudice to a simple Good vs Bad, Heroes vs Villains, Us vs Them paradigm, and yet the author never does that.

    Forest shows that prejudice and privilege are extremely complex and overlap in many ways. She shows that bigotry is not something you're born with, but something you learn. And, despite the dark and serious themes throughout, I can't help but wonder - isn't this message ultimately an uplifting one? Sure, it shows all the prejudice and horrors that exist in our world, but it shows something else too-- that they can be beaten.

    I did spend a lot of time considering whether I wanted to review this at all. I figure there is a group of people on twitter waiting to tear down anyone who doesn’t instantly 1-star this book and scream “offensive!” And I’m so tired of the backlash people get for going against the herd. But, in the end, if Goodreads isn’t a place where people can express a variety of different opinions and perspectives, then it is utterly worthless.





  • Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky)

    I've completely re-written this review. If you read the earlier version, maybe take another look? It is really long… sorry about that lol.

    Part 1 is the review. Part 2 is the discussion of the controversy around this book, re-written based on my thinking of, and discussion around this topic here on GR in the last few weeks.

    This is essentially an origin story. Poor stylistic cho

    I've completely re-written this review. If you read the earlier version, maybe take another look? It is really long… sorry about that lol.

    Part 1 is the review. Part 2 is the discussion of the controversy around this book, re-written based on my thinking of, and discussion around this topic here on GR in the last few weeks.

    This is essentially an origin story. Poor stylistic choices and an unlikeable protagonist affect the power of an otherwise engaging novel about prejudice, the power of friendship and the value of education.

    Honestly, I had a lot of difficultly with Elloren, the protagonist, she is a cry baby and… kind of an asshole. She doesn’t do a single nice thing until approx. halfway thru the book.

    That is way, way, way too far into the novel.

    Have you heard the common catch phrase “save the cat”? It refers to the recommendation that writers have their protagonist do something nice early in the novel to garner sympathy. Likewise, villians “kick the dog” in the first act. Not every novel uses such simplistic moral frameworks.

    But in a novel such as this- where the protagonist is a prejudice, privileged young woman- she should probably “save the cat” early on.

    There was nothing admirable about Elloren I could point to, no inherent goodness, that allowed me to overcome my initial distaste. And the other problem I had was her description of a character with a physical deformity. She describes having to adjust to the unpleasantness of her appearance…. Like that isn’t prejudice. That is just you being a fucking bitch Ellenora. Add to that the unfortunate girl on girl hate… hmm.

    This is a major developmental problem within the novel and I’m honestly appalled that Forest was not advised by her publisher to significantly re-write the first two acts of the manuscript to correct this issue.

    Why did I still enjoy it?

    Luckily, it is an ensemble cast. One of the most disingenuous aspects of the critical reviews is that they fail to acknowledge that

    . These characters feature heavily in the story. And some of them are downright deserving of a gold star… or ten. ☺

    At the core of the novel is


    This is true to life.

    This novel has a lot of set up and the pacing isn’t always quite right. I always try to give debut novels more leniency, because many of my fave authors started off with sharp weaknesses, which are rounded off in later releases.

    There is a lot going on in the background of these novels. Some people criticised this, because every student they know is active in the political and military activity of their country at the age of 17.*

    Personally, I appreciated the slow “waking up” of various characters to the grim future staring at them if they continued to ignore the larger world outside their university bubble.

    TBH it was sort of a cross between

    , (if

    addressed serious social and political issues) and

    , in a fantasy world.

    That probably sounds terrible. But actually,


    P.S there is a lot of romance and sobbing in this novel. It sounded really kickass in the blurb but actually the story was kinda… girly? Like, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, girly? I think I expected something closer to Mark Lawrence’s

    but I got Dawson’s Creek in Never Land.

    *Heavy sarcasm and eye-rolling intended.

    Argh, I honestly wanted to be able to rave about this book. But there were a few problems in every part of the triad (character, plot, writing) that shapes a 5 star book that just kept dragging down my overall enjoyment.

    Forest had the most bizarre transitions. I haven’t seen something this amateurish in a trad pubbed novel in… literally… years.

    So Forest would do this thing where Elloren would tell a story to another character about something that happened a few weeks earlier, or recount in her head something that happened a few days before.

    I cannot for the fucking life of me understand why she did this. Just tell the fucking story in order. It was almost as bad as the SP books I read where the author keeps putting the character to bed to end a scene. FFS!

    I don’t understand why she did this. It was so jarring. So frustrating. So fucking pointless. The first time I highlighted it and thought “ok, everyone gets one free pass”, by the fourth occurrence I was tearing my hair out. What sort of editor lets a writer do this? Had scenes been heavily cut and mashed together? Did Forest have too many scene fragments and this was the solution?

    I know it seems like a stupid thing to get annoyed about, but I often find that it is in books I otherwise enjoyed that these mistakes are all the more jarring.

    Otherwise the writing was solid, nothing too spectacular, but effective with a clear voice.

    I have seen several explanations for the fury attached to this book:

    Ok, so this is tricky because I’m really uncomfortable arguing with a POC about whether something is racist or not.

    So I’m going to put forward these statements and readers can take them however they like:

    1.) A direct comparison between modern race relations in say, America, with the situation created in this novel is very difficult to make. Why? Because the region in the novel has a long history of violence, prejudice and genocide on all sides. I was a bit shocked by the people who were most angered by this novel. To me,

    . Make of that what you will. But it certainly wasn’t a clear- cut story of colonialism or slavery.


    . As of the end of the novel, other characters, many disenfranchised under the current “world order” of the novel, are actively doing significantly more to undercut inequity then Elloren. Her admiration for these characters is obvious. Should Elloren be the title character? Probably not. But as it stands this is very much a team effort kind of story. The exception is the selkie- who is saved by Elloren… But is mostly healed and comforted by other disenfranchised characters.


    , often within the same page. It was very clear to me that you were meant to find the racism repugnant. Nobody would read this with heart- eyed sincerity… Unlike some other very popular books that actually reinforce racism, often unconsciously.

    So, what are the themes in TBW-

    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel despite it's flaws.

    So it is no secret that controversies in the book world are at an all time high this year.

    Here is the current situation:

    • Shawna, Cait and a few other reviewers publish critical reviews of TBW, telling people it is racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist.

    • Some reviewers panic and remove their star rating.

    • L.L. McKinney and other influential WOC on twitter, in the blogosphere and here on twitter encourage readers to 1 star TBW in protest.

    • This leads to an overall rating that currently stands at 2 stars.

    • Emily May, Robin Hobb, and a few other influential reviewers, writers and bloggers provide a contrary position. Much drama ensues.

    • L.L. McKinney has her unreleased novel 1 starred in retaliation for some supposedly racist comments she made on twitter ("whiteness tires me so"). Many of the people 1 starring her book decried the 1 starring of TBW and are some of Forest’s most vocal supporters (

    ). Those reviews are removed but the reviews on TBW remain. Much drama ensues.

    • Some reviewers, who previously gave TBW a high or medium star rating retaliate further by removing their star rating of TBW, even thou Forest had nothing to do with the drama over on L.L. McKinney’s book,


    This has also occurred in the context of frequent fury over representations of POC in new releases. Some examples include:

    I’ve had several people ask why there has been so much drama around books lately. Here is my answer:

    I suspect the rise in the popularity of book tube and #booktwitter has contributed to the increase in bookdrama and outrage.

    There is something instinctively addictive about the drama and when you have big influxes of people who maybe don't usually spend time on GR voting and commenting on every review on a single book the drama gets flooded thru a huge number of readers feeds. The result is that it snowballs into a massive deal.

    Previously if a heavy hitting GR reviewer critiqued a book, they were only one reviewer on a page full of reviews. And they didn't usually encourage others to provide fake 1 star reviews with a link to the original review. The exception being when the community felt an author was behaving badly. GR addressed this by blanket banning these sort of pile on's.

    In addition, rising partisanship is causing rifts and frustration across all media platforms. There are a whole hosts of reasons for this that are too long and detailed to explain here, but it seems likely that GR and the online book community are actually behind the general community in terms of the outrage chasers.

    Every successful blog writer in the world knows the best way to get traction on their site is to post really divisive, controversial pieces. Book reviewers used to do it by posting negative reviews on popular books. They are cottoning on to easier, more explosive ways to manufacture interest.

    The other less cynical factor is that more diverse writers, readers and reviewers are gaining influence. This inevitably creates tension/ drama and is actually a good thing.

    (except maybe the villains and savages).

    A part of this is frustration within the industry for POC trying to be published.

    At the back end, I don't see the evidence of this because I read so many popular novels written by writers who aren't white.


    That doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

    When so many people in the industry are saying the same thing, it seems likely that it is a problem. No wonder they are furious and viciously criticising white writers who get published with "race plots".

    The whole thing is pretty interesting because 10 years ago a lot of authors of colour were complaining about being forced to write exclusively about race. Now people like L.L. are say they don't think white writers should be "allowed" to write about race because they are cashing in on the flux of interest in reading about diverse characters/ settings.

    I think there were similar for/against arguments regarding male authors being published with books about female MC's above female authors. I couldn't imagine anyone making that argument these days.

    Although you still get the occasional accusation that the publishing industry is sexist the statistics suggest otherwise- more women or employed in the industry then men, and more women are making it as mid-list authors then men. Unsurprising as more women read then men.

    Like women a few decades ago, POC are a largely invisible reading group. The surprise success of a number of writers, bloggers and novels that deal with diversity has proven otherwise. The same thing can be seen with LGBTQ readers and writers.

    The publishing industry will readjust, a lot of the fury will die down and these sort of dramas will fade.

    The evidence of change is already revealing itself- last years literary awards were impressively diverse (which caused a lot of old white men to cry into their cornflakes).

    It is understandable that people are getting really defensive and angry. Change is within their grasp and likely won't occur unless they are loud enough and ferocious enough.

    That is why I am very wary of criticising POC who are fighting for change in the industry broadly. For them, this is war. For me, this is a bit of unpleasantness around a book release.

    At the core of the issue is GR's refusal to create a blanket rule regarding what is acceptable and what isn't. When can a book’s rating be decimated and an author’s carrer destroyed, and when is that unacceptable?

    If readers comment on an author's convictions for child abuse the review is deleted.

    The line seems to be- if they said stuff in the book that justifies the accusation, it can stay but if they said something racist in another public forum- that isn't allowed.

    Or maybe, if the criticism is included within a book review it can stay but if it is the only thing in the review it will be deleted. It is all so unclear.

    The result is people feel unfairly targeted.

    But GR isn't interested in resolving the issue and they have never had any real platform competition that offers the ease GR delivers. So why invest time in something bound to piss at least some people off?

    I came across another review arguing that the 1 star reviews are a form of protest and thus a legitimate expression of their political/ social power.

    This is something I have had a keen interest in since the anonymous DDoS attacks on Scientology and PayPal.

    I supported the attacks initially until you think thru the consequences- what if every feminist novel had a one star rating on GR due to MRA's brigading those books- having not read them and following the lead of someone they admire with online influence..

    What if trump supporters orchestrated DDoS attacks on media outlets that gave unfavourable coverage?

    It's a slippery slope.

    I'm not pretending I have answers to this. But I do think it is worth thinking and talking about.

    is the collection of social/ cultural scripts we use to monitor good and bad behaviour in the public sphere. Nerdwriter recently did a great video on this topic which you can watch

    if you are interested.

    He makes an observation in the video that opinion pieces (just like reviews here on goodreads) have had a resurgence in power, providing


    used to be something that mostly only famous people or CEO’s engaged in. With the rise of social media, everyone has an online identity they carefully (or not so carefully) curate.

    What we say on the internet is forever.

    And people are keen to demonstrate that they are “good people”. Some of the “protest” behaviour, where people are 1-starring a book with a link to the orginal review are engaging in social proofing,


    The problem being, of course, that sometimes the headlines are just flat out wrong. In which case people are contributing to a public witch-hunt, destroying a person’s life, without having any of the facts of the matter.

    It takes each individual who shares the review a few seconds. But this controversy will haunt Forest for the rest of her career.

    That is a pretty serious action. You should be absolutely sure the person who you are denigrating deserves that life sentence. And how can you if you read

    and didn’t even bother to engage with the original text?

    The Western justice system is founded on the idea of fair trail. But we seem to forget that principle when it comes to social justice trials.

    We also seem to forget that they are even more damaging to a person’s career, identity and future prospects then a criminal conviction.

    Before you go advertising your moral superiority by 1 starring this book with a statement like "never, never, never racist af" and a link to one review perhaps you should consider reading the book in question?

    You aren't really doing anything to contribute to difficult and complex discussions about how people of colour or women or LGBT characters are represented by jumping on every bandwagon you see riding by.

    Starring a book you haven’t read is up to you. I can’t tell you what to do. But because I’m a bit of an asshole here is a helpful guide if you are on the fence about whether to engage in this behaviour:

    Did you rate this book?

    a.) Before you read it


    b.) After you read it?

    If you answered (a.) that is pretty stupid no matter what your justification.

    If you answered (b.) good job, you understand how to read, rate and review novels.

    On a more serious note, I wanted to thank everyone who has commented on this review for their polite, thoughtful and sincere engagement with this difficult topic.

  • Bentley ★

    I'd like to start off this review with a little warning to the naysayers for this book: if you're here to brigade me in the comments section and tell me how wrong I am for having an opinion that differs from your own, you can save it because your comment WILL be flagged and deleted. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and no amount of abuse from the people who think it's okay to squas

    I'd like to start off this review with a little warning to the naysayers for this book: if you're here to brigade me in the comments section and tell me how wrong I am for having an opinion that differs from your own, you can save it because your comment WILL be flagged and deleted. The opinions expressed in the review are my own, and no amount of abuse from the people who think it's okay to squash free thinking with nasty comments and twitter brigades will force me to change it. Don't like it, don't read it.

    When I first realized what was happening to this book, I was disturbed. When I looked into it a bit more and realized how this all started, I was outright annoyed.


    Now that I've read it myself, I can safely say that what happened to this book was wholly undeserved, and very likely perpetrated by a person who saw an opportunity to bolster her own image, while tearing down a debut author at the same time - because who cares if creative expression suffers as long as you prove to your followers how moral you are, right? 

    At the time of my last post about this book, The Black Witch was sitting at a 2.08stars on Goodreads, with 473 reviews and 1,123 ratings. 

    Just to update you all, 

     It's definitely trending upwards, albeit slowly, and this increase can be attributed to the fact that the majority of those 150+ new reviews that have poured in have been mostly ranging from good-to-favorable. Why? Because those people actually read the book and thought for themselves before rating. Go figure, right? 

    I can't review this book without standing up against the culture on Goodreads that made this whole situation possible in the first place. How, how does this sort of thing happen? How do we as readers allow ourselves to become so jaded that we allow one fellow reviewer to totally decide our reading habits for us? One fellow reviewer with a nasty habit of using debut authors to bolster her own public image, I might add. 

    Shouldn't we intellectual thinkers do the intellectual thing and actually check out these sort of things for ourselves? I get not wanting to support an author if you think the content is problematic, but

     Especially when there are people's hopes, dreams and very livelihoods on the line. I cannot imagine spending years of my life writing a book only to have one single review set her twitter followers on me because she's looking for internet morality points. 

    And lets be clear here that this is exactly what happened. 

    There is something incredibly ironic in the fact that we as a community have placed a white woman's review on a pedestal and completely accepted her opinion on what is, or is not racist in the first place.  I don't mean to imply that I think I have a complete handle on the subject either - but

    not acting like the creative expression police and asking my followers to torpedo a brand new author's debut book with allegations that are disingenuous at best, and slanderous at worst. 

    She hits every buzzword she knew in her review, (racism, homophobia, abelism, assault, self-harm, and even name drops the holocaust along with more) while

     before twitter and tumblr, and now Goodreads crowds decided feigning outrage at  everything was the appropriate response and a healthy way to view the world. She calls this book about a FANTASY WORLD FILLED WITH SHAPESHIFTERS AND MADE UP CREATURES "dangerous".

    And the people attacking this book haven't stopped there. They continue to drum up negative conversation around this book, and encourage each other to brigade other books edited by Harlequin Teen. Oh, and they targeted Kirkus for daring to give this book an award.

     There are quite a few moments in that original review where she mentions sobbing, and not being able to finish whole pages in the book because she was that deeply offended by it. It is her right to be offended, but if you're admitting to skipping over passages and allowing a book to take that level of emotional toll on you while reading it, it might be time to admit you've lost objectivity and can't review it without personal stances coloring your opinion of a work of fiction.

    There's actually very little literary analysis (if any) present in this original review. Which isn't all that surprising, because much of what this person wrote was originally live tweeted to her followers in the first place. And really, how much context can you truly impart to your followers with 140 characters? The answer - not much. 

     That's downright predatory behavior in my book, and if you're the type that needs to tear down others and encourage the destruction of another person's career to bolster your own internet identity, you seriously need to re-examine your priorities. Just saying.

    It's like I woke up one day and suddenly found myself living in a world where people seek out things to be offended by, and to decry via social media as some sort of proof of how noble and virtuous they are. But you see, the thing is, when it comes to books or any form of creative expression 

    That also means that you don't have the right to brigade new authors, editors and publishing houses because a particular book

    offend you without actually reading it. I've made it quite clear by now that I believe that original review lacks context and purposefully misleads, but at least that reviewer took the time to read the damn book to fish out all those quotes. The rest of you who rated one star didn't even bother doing that. And that's wrong. 

    Also, a fairy loses its wings. This is how you get censorship guys. By demanding every story be told the way you want, you remove opportunities to see things from another perspective in the future. Basically, if you don't think you're going to like it, don't read it, and move on. Stop with the senseless slaughter of debut authors reputations and careers based off of rumor and half-truths. 

    How ironic that the book that garnered so much controversy from keyboard warriors this year for being so offensive happens to be 

    This is a story about realizing how you may be a product of your environment and upbringing. This is a story about one woman realizing the dangers of the way she had been conditioned to think for her entire life, and overcoming those notions. This is a story about redemption and friendship and the beauty that comes with realizing that there is strength in diversity and multiculturalism. 

     Seriously, Laurie Forest thought this thing OUT! Lots of YA fantasy kind of half-asses the world building. If you're lucky you get a castle, royalty, and magic-imbibed human characters. However, here there are numerous fantasy races, and they're all so vastly different from one another. And they all have histories and legends and preconceived notions within their races that force them to challenge themselves and grow, and learn to trust each the people they once feared or hated over time. 

    As a result, the world feels vast and real and lived in. It has not one history, but multiple histories and cultures for its creatures. And given that Elloren comes from such an incredibly sheltered background, she provides quite an interesting lens for the viewer to experience the diversity and promise of the world through. 

     Elloren is obviously the most dynamic and well written character in the book. Given that she's so misguided at the start, I won't lie and say that I wasn't frustrated by her actions from time to time - but that's the point. She's overcoming years of an unhealthy upbringing and by the end I was rooting for the changes she was undergoing. 

    And she's not the only one! The entire core cast at the school is so great. I believed in their friendship and I loved watching it grow and bloom over time as they all come to places of better understanding with each other. Their cultural heritages are each unique and so compelling. The characterization was just really well done in this book, and I've got to give it credit. 

    that really highlights why it's so important that Elloren and her friends continue to challenge themselves and learn to put aside everything they once knew. Such as: 

     There was a lot of lore around the magic established in this book. Powerless though she may be, Elloren is surrounded by magical creatures and there's a lot of little magical moments thrown in regardless. I'm really excited to see where some of it goes next. 

     Seriously, she can go fall in a hole for all I care. But as the source of all of Elloren's misguided ideas about race, she's supposed to be a character you hate, so this is definitely NOT a fault of the writer. 

     I'm not going to name them, because spoilers, but it seemed like they had just met and then were kissing. And while it doesn't end up being very important to the rest of story at all and can probably be chalked up to horny teens that comprise lots of YA, instalove still rubs me the wrong way. 

     I wanted more! It felt a tiny bit abrupt to me, especially because an event (a Ball) that had been spoken of earlier in the book doesn't get to actually take place, having been saved for book 3. I think that sort of made it feel a bit more cliffhanger-y than it absolutely needed to. 

    Still, not even those minor complaints can distract from the fact that I loved this book. I kept going back and forth between 4 and 5 stars, but the way the characters develop and the way the world building unfolds really puts this one over the top for me. Besides, enough people railroaded this book unfairly that I think 5 stars from me is more than fair in this case. 

    Please, give this book a chance. At the very least, rethink your 1-star brigade reviews in the future. Allow authors their right to creative expression without getting offended on other people's behalf, especially when you're taking 1 (very biased) review completely at face value without doing your own due diligence. 

    ★★★★★ = 5/5 "Give this book a chance!" stars

  • Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~

    So, I read it.

    Yes, a defining motivation for almost everything that happens in this book is

    No, I do not feel that the author condones racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. ideologies about

    My opinion? This book was preemptively dragged through the mud

    Seriously tho

    So, I read it.

    Yes, a defining motivation for almost everything that happens in this book is

    No, I do not feel that the author condones racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. ideologies about

    My opinion? This book was preemptively dragged through the mud

    Seriously though, since when is portraying characters with shitty belief systems the same as condoning characters with shitty belief systems?

    And I must ask, have we not made it past the point where we accept that people are not all good or all bad? That it's the part of ourselves we act on that make us who we are?

    Speaking of

    any of you who ever found it in your heart to sympathize with Draco Malfoy but concluded this book is problematic (likely without reading it) may want to reevaluate.

    is similar to what we'd be reading if Rowling had written

    & cast Draco as the protagonist.

    Not similar in plot, but similar in that we have a young person, raised with a certain set of beliefs, perpetuating those beliefs for a time, and eventually coming to question whether or not those beliefs are valid when confronted with real world experience & knowledge.

    Elloren is surrounded by people from different races who all hate each other, and for her first bit of time at University she has a lot of her biases confirmed. Everyone in this book is acting on their contempt toward everyone else,

    Broadly speaking, does it make sense to judge actions of a few & apply them to everyone in a certain group? Of course not.

    Does it make sense for Elloren, who has lived an incredibly sheltered life up to that point, to take her first impressions as an initial confirmation for the prejudices her religion has taught her? Yes, in my opinion, it does.

    & I have no clue where this "she doesn't learn her lesson" idea is coming from. Elloren

    questions whether the religion she's grown up with is bullshit, begins breaking down deeply ingrained prejudices,

    Is she perfectly "woke" by the end of the book? Well fuck, no, she's not. But this whole story takes place over the course of what, a year?

    When you are faced with working through the tangled mess of indoctrination you've been drowning in for the majority of your life,

    And it certainly isn't going to come full circle in a short time; you'd be lucky to see significant progress over the course of a few years.

    Especially when you're walking that path alone without the support/encouragement of people who love you & accept your evolution. It's a process that I myself have been through, and so it's literally amazing to me that Elloren's character is being so harshly criticized for what I consider to be

    I'm listing these three quotes because I truly don't think an author who writes a book with the intention of bolstering a racist/homophobic/ableist ideology would have the capacity to write these lines.

    It's my opinion that a lot of the condemning examples I have seen are taken out of their proper context & slanted to fit a certain perspective.

    But here's my thing, I'm not going to spend anymore time in this review trying to convince you that this book is not what it's been accused of being. If the premise of this book interests you at all,

    As for my opinion on this book

    of the maelstrom of controversy it's garnered,

    The best aspect of

    is the style of description.

    's words are infused with whimsy, laying out

    scenes that were lovely to imagine. The details of places & people really leap off the page in a way you don't often see in debuts.

    But unfortunately, those beautiful words were not backed by beautiful world-building. There is a decent variety of races present (fae, lupines, demons, elves, etc.,) but most of them are

    of what we have seen countless times before in other Fantasy novels. The world-building element of the story also

    from the choice in POV.

    Elloren's story is told in first person, and I found it quite difficult to connect myself to the world because we spend

    trudging through Elloren's squabbles with basically everyone she encounters.

    We come to understand some of the details behind the tension between races through Elloren's eyes,

    There are a handful of prologues written from different perspectives, but it didn't quite resolve the issue.

    There is such an enormous focus on Elloren's

    that it really destroyed my ability to relate to her. She has a couple shining moments scattered throughout the story & some of her connections to others develop in a satisfying way, but she is so heavily characterized by her relationship to

    that I found it difficult to invest in her as the protagonist.

    We've got the Regina George-esque mean girl who is unabashedly awful & hates the MC, the quiet, soft-spoken best friend, the male love interest who oozes testosterone & trails along behind the MC just waiting for the opportunity to corner her with a steamy kiss, and adults that don't listen or understand the MC & love jumping to conclusions.

    Forest's dialogue also edges a bit too close to the line of

    for my tastes. I couldn't help but imagine the characters speaking the same way theater performers sometimes do, with so much exaggeration that the performance

    It seemed like every situation Elloren got into was "wildly scandalous" or "wildly embarrassing" or "wildly confusing" or "wildly inappropriate." I get it, her people are conservative, but Forest may be in a competition with Maas to see how many times she can use the same word in a single book.

    As with the world-building, the plot of this story also suffers from

    Elloren is just existing at the University for most of the time. There's a mini plot near the end of the novel, but it doesn't do much to salvage my attention when

    until the 80-90% mark.

    Not to mention the novel ends in what I consider to be an abrupt place. It's not even a cliffhanger, it just cuts off with some weird, minor plot developments unresolved.

    So it's safe to say

    I knew going into it that I had no intention of softening my opinion of this book if I disliked it; I wanted to write an honest review to the very best of my ability.

    I'm glad to have read this so I can finally put to rest my suspicions about the controversy surrounding it.

    I have no problem with calling out a book for racist/ableist/sexist/etc. themes.

    But I am disappointed to see that most ratings are coming from people who haven't read the book.

    Deciding not to read a book that may be harmful to you is

    Deciding to use GR's review function as a means of drawing attention to a book and warning others about its content is

    But I can't support destroying a book's ratings when it hasn't been read by the majority reviewers. This book may be an absolute piece of shit but I won't claim to know that for sure

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