{Review/Discussion} The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch

by Laurie Forest
Published May 2017
Goodreads: See here
YA/Fantasy

Featured image from my instagram: @bookbastion

Synopsis at a Glance:

Elloren Gardener is the spitting image of her grandmother, the fabled Black Witch of Gardneria. Although looks tend to be deceiving, and Elloren herself is powerless. She lives a quiet and extremely sheltered life with her two brothers and uncle, simply trying to get by in a society that prizes magical power over all else.

When Elloren is granted the opportunity to make her dreams of becoming an apothecary a reality, she travels across country to Verpax University – a school that admits all manner of people, including fire-breathing Icarals, the enemy of all Gardnerians. Elloren quickly realizes that shrugging off the mantle her heritage as granddaughter to the Black Witch might be more dangerous that she had first considered.

As evil looms and pressure to remain faithful to her namesake builds, everything Elloren once thought true must be challenged and torn away. Her best hope for survival rests in an unlikely band of allies, if only she can learn to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.

Reviewed:

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. Also, don’t complain you’re being treated unfairly after you rated a book 1-star before you even read it.

A few months ago I wrote this post: {Aside} Rating On Goodreads Before You’ve Read It, discussing the unfair treatment of The Black Witch by overzealous teenagers on Goodreads looking to prove their morality to their followers. It’s an important read and a precursor to this post, so if you haven’t seen it yet make sure you check it out.

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. Make no mistake: what happened to this book, its author, and its editors/Harlequin Teen was not fair, it was censorship.

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?

And the most disappointing part has got to be how many people just went along with it, down-voting this book into oblivion without taking the time to read or think for themselves. 

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

Just to update you all, today, the same book sits at a 2.80% with 637 reviews and 1,173 ratings. 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 at least get thineself to a library stat and do your own fact checking before you jump on every bandwagon you see. 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 I’m encouraging people to do their own due diligence and find out for themselves, 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 ignoring critical things like context or the simple fact that what she was reading is something we once celebrated as good storytelling 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 and award.

Also, as a fellow reviewer, I have to say this: You owe it to your followers to acknowledge when the content/theme/or plot of a book was too offensive for you to fully evaluate the literary aspects of the book with objectivity. 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 color 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.

Not only does that original review lack context in many areas and dangerously encourages the censorship of creative expression; it was also purposefully done to give this woman’s blog, twitter handle and business, visibility while harming the chances of another person’s livelihood and success. 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 you are not morally, legally or ethically obligated to read/watch/or listen to anything that doesn’t appeal to you. 

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

Every time you rate a book 1 star without reading it, because of something you heard, you snuff out creative expression in the future. 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.

{Now, as for The Black Witch itself}

How ironic that the book that garnered so much controversy from keyboard warriors this year for being so offensive happens to be the most diverse book I’ve read this year, and also one of the most hopeful. 

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.

What I Loved: 

The world building is so great. 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.

Similarly, the characters, their races, and their cultures are great. 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.

There’s some really lovely quotes mixed in during all that character growth, 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:

“Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative Elloren Gardner, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.”

The Magical lore is intriguing and has a lot of potential to get even better! 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.

Related image

What I Didn’t Love

Elloren’s aunt. 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 had one tiny complaint about a kiss between 2 charactersI’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.

That ending though! 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.

The Black Witch is a wonderful YA fantasy that deserves more credit than it gets. I thought it was so creative, compelling and important, despite what naysayers who have never read the book might have you think.

If you take anything away from this review, let it be this: 

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


Lets continue the discussion on rating 1-star without even trying to read the book. Fair, or unfair? Right, or wrong? Have you read this book? Will you at least think about giving it a chance? 

 

xoxo

 

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31 thoughts on “{Review/Discussion} The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

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  1. Interesting review! I have an ARC copy that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, so I can’t comment on whether or not my experience was similar to yours, but I do think it’s wrong for people to 1-star a book. I have no problem with people writing a review and warning people or providing links to actual reviews, but not actually giving the book a star rating without having read the novel. It’s the same when people 5-star a book without reading it (although this is usually for books by popular YA authors) – always irks me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can I just say that I am now your official Fangirl? Everything you said is so true! There are so many keyboard warriors out there, hiding behind their screens, begging for their 30 seconds in the spotlight. What they don’t realize is that they’re abusive bullies towards authors and for no reason! It’s all fine and dandy to have an opinion, no one is stopping you! But if you share your opinion make sure there are facts and context to back it up. And I’m not sure if it’s them or the blind followers who are worse. This book sounds so interesting! I absolutely love well built and complete worlds. I have this one on my wish list and plan to pick it up soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha thank you so much for the compliment! You hit the nail on the head (much more concisely than I managed!) when you say that these people are seeking a moment in the spotlight. I don’t think it should be overlooked that the original reviewer of this book who started the whole thing appears to make something of a side hobby pointing out “problematic content” in books to her followers. She knows it appeals to the people who follow her, but disregards the fact that she leaves out context and is actively harming real people. Pretty much every complaint she had in her review can be quickly diced by providing context to the scene or the next line of dialouge/exposition.

      I hope that when you read this, you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never read the review that started it all. Honestly I would be a pot of boiling anger if I did! So many people out there point out “problematic” (can I just say that I REALLY HATE THAT WORD!) things just because they get attention. So wrong on so many levels. Whatever happened to reading for enjoyment?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What an interesting review! I have to admit that a few months ago, I joined the trend and blindly gave books that people deemed as controversial 1 star ratings *hides* But I’m SO GLAD that I realised what I was doing is so wrong! I will never ever let myself be influenced like that again and I will only ever rate books after having read them myself and formed my own opinion about them!
    I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed The Black Witch! Initially, I’ve marked it on Goodreads as “not interested” but I might actually give it a try!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jackie!! ❤ ❤ ❤ I'm so glad that you didn't hate me for my really strong position on this topic then! I think that's really awesome of you though that you've moved past rating things 1 star. I can see how people get caught up in that sort of thing. For me, I like to encourage readers to look for themselves and make up their own mind. I'd never want a book squashed by my followers on my command.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome post and review! I am so tired of all the negativity in the book community and the hate when someone has a difference in opinion. And I agree that you should not rate a book if you did not finish it.

    I finally had my first DNF and I had to figure out how to post my review without it counting towards my read books on GR and I made sure I did not leave a rating. I specifically stated the reasons why I did not finish it and that those were personal preferences. I stated that I would not recommend it but did not specifically state “do not read this” because it was my own opinions that kept me from finishing it and someone obviously liked it enough to publish it.

    I have seen so much controversy lately over books, and heard about rioting at book events. This is not cool! I think that if you don’t like a book, its fine to state why, but not okay to try to encourage others to not read it, and definitely not okay to hate on others who have a different opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! ^_^

      I’m with you – totally tired of the negativity. I’m just here to talk books and be happy and make cool new friends who love books too. Bums me out that some people take themselves way too seriously. This is just a hobby for all of us after all. It seems crazy for us to turn the authors we rely on for books into villains in this strange narrative where they have to write only what we want to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly! And when I write a review about a book I did not like, I try very hard to not be negative about the author because it takes a lot of guts to write a book and put it out there for the world to see. They deserve respect, and I may not agree with what every author write, but I know it had to be scary as hell for them to show their work to someone.

        Same thing with us. It takes a lot of guts for us to publicly share our thoughts and opinions, so why should we hate on each other for it! I’m glad you and I share opinions on this and I always look forward to reading your posts! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I would never rate a book without reading it first and I would never change my review after being shamed (going back to your original post). To answer your second question, I haven’t read the book. But now I want to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It still boggles my mind when I see a major Booktuber (those who actually DO make money off of their channels) bow to pressure and change their reviews. They did it for Carve the Mark and a few did it for this book too. Personally, I can’t trust a reviewer I know flip flops on their opinions so easily.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review dude! I do remember the kiss you mentioned and I agree it was too soon. I still need to finish it *shame on me* lol. The narrator of the audio book for this actually won an Earphones Award recently which is cool. Hopefully we’ll all be more honest with our reviews. You’re a great example 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved your post on rating before reading, and I love this post just as much. I won an ARC of Blackwitch. When I looked into it and saw all the terrible ratings, I was discouraged and set it on my shelf to be read when the commotion over it had died down. When I read your post on how people were rating it before reading, I was furious. I had credited those people as book-lovers and supports of the craft. I had let them influence my thoughts towards that book when they had never even picked it up. I am so glad you are speaking out about this book and others like it. Now the only reason I haven’t started Blackwitch is because of how long it is, but I’ll read it, and then rate it accordingly 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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