New Treasures: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

New Treasures: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch-small The Black Witch-back-small

Is there anything as delightful as a debut fantasy novel that comes out of nowhere and gets rave reviews? (Never mind, it’s a rhetorical question). The latest example to cross my desk is The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, a 600-page fat fantasy that Kirkus calls “A massive page-turner that leaves readers longing for more,” and that Publishers Weekly praises with “Exquisite character work, an elaborate mythology, and a spectacularly rendered universe make this a noteworthy debut.” It arrived in hardcover and digital formats on May 1st.

A new Black Witch will rise… her powers vast beyond imagining.

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people — including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians — is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits… if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear.

The Black Witch was published by Harlequin Teen on May 1, 2017. It is 601 pages, priced at $19.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Mary Luna. Read an excerpt at Entertainment Weekly.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sarah Avery

I am Gravely Concerned about this book, but not for any of the reasons I see SF/F readers talking about it.

There’s a lot of argument already out there about how Laurie Forest handles her protagonist’s upbringing in a deeply racist culture. Some readers find the troubling depiction of racism necessary to make Elloran’s struggle against it emotionally believable. Some readers find that depiction to be so deeply saturated in racist ways of thinking that the book, in their view backfires. Not yet having read it, that’s a controversy I am not ready to speak to.

But here’s one I am:

Gardnerian is the name of a real-world denomination — not of my denomination, but of my religion. It did not start out as the name of a made up nationality for the fantasy land of Gardneria. It started out as the earliest branch, and the most widely-known branch, of modern Wicca. To take that name and repurpose it as a name for a fictional community notable primarily for its profound, pervasive racism and its history of genocide looks to me a lot like defamation.

Choose any ten reviews of The Black Witch on Goodreads and replace the name “Gardnerian” with “Methodist” or “Episcopalian” or “Greek Orthodox.” Are you itchy yet?

Now do the same reading exercise, and swap in the names of faith traditions that, like Wicca, have been subjected to widespread defamation, occasional violent bias crimes, and unconstitutional local-government attempts at systematic discrimination. Reread those sentences, replacing “Gardnerian” with the branch of Judaism of your choice, or perhaps with “Mormon.”

Regardless of whether Elloran’s rejection of “Gardnerian” racism and struggle against a history of “Gardnerian” genocide works to make the main character sympathetic, any readerly sympathy she wins comes at the expense of the community she grew up in. And the name of that community is stolen from actual people who have, documentably since the early 1940s, been subjected to bias, and have entirely lacked the numbers, the opportunity, and above all, the inclination to behave with bias against others.

Why did Laurie Forest choose that name? She could have come up with anything else. She could have started with that name in her rough draft and then changed it to anything else before going to press. Look at the number of people she names in her acknowledgements, in Vermont for goodness sake. It’s impossible to believe that in all the many years she says she worked on that book that not one single person who saw the draft had Googled around with the word “witch” and tripped over the name “Gardnerian.” It would be a hard to miss. Try it and see.

I’ve got the author’s own site, and a whole lot of sites with her PR stuff on them, open in other browser windows. There Laurie Forest is in her author photo, all in spooky black with her long witchy-stereotypy hair, but eschewing any definitive signs of affiliation. There’s her author bio, where she could have mentioned it if indeed she were part of any Pagan community, and where she precisely has not.

Who is she to brandish a near-accusation of aspirations to genocidal racism at my cousins in the next denomination over? What is she playing at? I don’t know what her agenda is, but she’s got one.

And now I have to set aside a stack of books I would rather have read, books that I’m quite confident are not defamatory, because it’s part of my responsibility as a publicly Pagan writer to take an informed stand about stuff like this.

I don’t think Forest is likely to come over and wash my dishes to make up for the time the rest of my to-do list will lose while I assess how big a mess she’s making for us.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x