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
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0373212313
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:601 pages

The Black Witch Reviews

  • Robin Hobb
    Aug 12, 2016

    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.

  • Gina
    Apr 04, 2017

    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
    Mar 13, 2017

    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 (b00kstorebabe)
    Mar 14, 2017

    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.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
    Mar 28, 2017

    3.5 stars, rounding up.* On sale now, May 2, 2017. Review first posted on

    :

    In an ironic twist,

    (2017), a book expressly dedicated to exploring the problem of prejudice and promoting diversity and tolerance, has been accused by many voices of being the very thing it is most devoted to showing as wrong. Words like “offensive,” “racist,” “ableist,” and “homophobic” have been hurled at the author and this book. It’s understandable, because the society and most of t

    3.5 stars, rounding up.* On sale now, May 2, 2017. Review first posted on

    :

    In an ironic twist,

    (2017), a book expressly dedicated to exploring the problem of prejudice and promoting diversity and tolerance, has been accused by many voices of being the very thing it is most devoted to showing as wrong. Words like “offensive,” “racist,” “ableist,” and “homophobic” have been hurled at the author and this book. It’s understandable, because the society and most of the characters depicted in

    ― including the main character, Elloren, a beautiful and otherwise kindhearted girl ―

    prejudiced and dismissive, even cruel, toward other races. It’s also deeply unfortunate and unfair, because obviously the author’s primary purpose is to show how even a nice person can be steeped in prejudice because of their culture and upbringing, and how that can change gradually as they meet new people, have new experiences, and slowly come to know better. It’s actually a great idea for a young adult fantasy novel.

    Seventeen year old Elloren Gardner is a member of one of the most prominent families in the country of Gardneria. She has the black hair, forest green eyes and white skin with a subtle shimmer that characterize her people, the Gardnerian Mages, and is also the spitting image of her famous grandmother, Carnissa Gardner, a powerful mage known as the Black Witch who saved her people during a bitter war. But Elloren seems to be lacking in any magical talent at all. Orphaned at a young age, her Uncle Edwin has raised her and her two brothers in the country, far away from the capital city of Valgard and its power politics … and Elloren’s Aunt Vyvian, a member of the High Mage Council.

    But now Aunt Vyvian has come to bring Elloren to the city, and from there to the prestigious Verpax University in the neighboring country of Verpacia. Elloren wants to become an apothecary; her aunt is insistent that she first “wandfast” (the Gardnerian form of marriage) with a powerful young mage, Lukas Grey. Elloren resists, even though she’s strongly attracted to Lukas; she’s just met him, and she promised her uncle that she’d wait to wandfast for a couple of years, until she finishes her education. Aunt Vyvian is highly displeased ― and once Elloren gets to the university, she finds out just how many ways her powerful and well-connected aunt can find to show her displeasure, make life difficult for Elloren, and convince Elloren to do what her aunt wants.

    Verpax University is a colorful and diverse place, a melting pot of many races: there are various types of fae (water, air, fire, and more), Kelts (a non-magical human race), Lupines (wolf shapeshifters), Icarals (bat-winged shapeshifters with fire-wielding power), elves, selkies, and more. (It’s a bit confusing, actually.) Elloren is assigned two Icaral-type roommates as part of her aunt’s punishing regime, and is forced to work in the university’s kitchen amongst humble non-Gardnerian workers of various races ― most of whom hate her on sight, just because she’s a Gardnerian and part of the oppressive ruling class. More hatred comes Elloren’s direction from Fallon Bane, a talented Gardnerian Mage and a romantic rival for Lukas’ attention.

    At Verpax University Laurie Forest begins delving more deeply into the theme of prejudices, particularly the lies that people can tell each other and themselves about their history, how awful people are who are different from them, and how their own race or nationality is better than any other type. The Gardnerians think they’re best and are disdainful toward other races … but we also see prejudice and unkind treatment based on racial stereotypes from practically every other group. Prejudice isn’t limited to just the Gardnerians, the ruling class. But they are the ones currently in power, and their leaders are actively looking to become more powerful.

    Elloren narrates this story in first person present tense, and some readers will find it just too painful or off-putting to be inside Elloren’s head and hearing her voice as she says all kinds of bigoted things, which she does very frequently, especially in the first half of the book. But it gradually becomes clear to Elloren that she and her society have been wrong. It takes most of the book, and even as she’s slowly changing she still says and thinks a lot of stupid things. But that’s

    . Change is not an immediate, magical process, and not all prejudiced people are evil and ugly and villainous … and they shouldn’t be depicted as such, even in a YA novel. Many people are biased just because they don’t know and have never been taught any better, and that’s what is going on with Elloren in

    .

    The world created by Laurie Forest in

    is a fairly traditional fantasy world with races and types that are largely recognizable, with a few original twists like the Urisk, a people with a magical affinity for gemstones. The university setting owes a fairly large debt to Hogwarts and the HARRY POTTER series. There are a fair number of broad hints that, despite Elloren’s current lack of magical power, at some point she’ll have a breakthrough and become the new Black Witch of the prophecies, so The Chosen One trope is definitely in play here as well. It’s the additional factor of the widespread prejudice, bigotry and cruelty in this world, and Forest’s focus on that problem, that set

    apart from otherwise similar books in the YA fantasy genre. It’s encouraging to see not just Elloren, but many other characters of different races, come together and learn to be more accepting of each other. The climax of the story is a perfect example of interracial cooperation, where multiple characters play a vital role.

    has a few other literary weaknesses: There are some key characters who are strictly cardboard portraits of hatred and bigotry. Elloren’s enemy and rival Fallon is one: a standard vicious queen bee character who is desperately jealous of Elloren’s relationship with Lukas. It would have been preferable to see a rival for Elloren who has some good points (other than her great magical power) and some subtlety as a character. Lukas’ character may offend readers who don’t like romantic interests in the form of hot guys who are alpha jerks, though this can be excused given the way their relationship shifts over the course of the novel. Additionally, Forest’s inexperience as an author shows through occasionally with “saidisms” and other trite or overused phrasing. In Chapter 14, for example, I counted six times in eight pages where a character “spits out” a laugh, a comment, or a sound of derision.

    As much as anything else,

    is the story of a young woman who is slowly clearing the webs of prejudice and bigotry from her head. Being forced together with Icaral roommates, the most despised of all other races, beginning to fall for someone who is of another race … and who is perhaps even more different than she initially thinks, and watching some of those who are closest to her do the same, all help that process along. This change process may happen too slowly or painfully for some readers, but it does add a different flavor to this romance- and adventure-oriented YA fantasy, the first in a planned series of four books.

    *Re rounding up my 3.5 rating: To be honest my first inclination was to round down; it's closer to a 3 star read for me than 4 stars. But (a) I give the book some extra credit for taking on the very difficult subject of prejudice, however imperfectly it handles it, and (b) with all the 1 star ratings out there based solely on jumping on the bandwagon, I felt like doing my very small part to help offset that.

  • Emily May
    Mar 22, 2017

    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.

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  • Solomon ~ The Bookish King
    Apr 04, 2017

    Blog Post:

    If you didn't read this book, but want to come at me on how you think its harmful, I promise you, I will delete your comments. I don't have the time or energy to deal with uncivil people who feel like they're always right. SO, you've been warned.

    Blog Post:

    If you didn't read this book, but want to come at me on how you think its harmful, I promise you, I will delete your comments. I don't have the time or energy to deal with uncivil people who feel like they're always right. SO, you've been warned.

    ~~

  • Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky)
    Apr 12, 2017

    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.

    2.)

    . 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.

    3.)

    , 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

    or

    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.


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