Forest, Laurie. The Black Witch. Harlequin Teen, 2017.
After their parents are killed, Elloren Gardner and her brothers move to a small town and live with their kind uncle, who serves as their guardian. Their uncle does not want the siblings to become “wandfasted”, a type of ceremonial betrothal, until they have finished their studies. Elloren looks just like her grandmother, Carnissa Gardner. She has been told that she has no magic powers, unlike her famous grandmother, who was the prophesied Black Witch and had level five magic—the most powerful known.
Elloren’s political aunt, Vyvian Gardner, tells Elloren she will pay for her to attend the prestigious Verpax University and whisks her away to her spacious castle. At a party given in her honor, Aunt Vyvian introduces Elloren to Lukas Gray, a handsome, eligible Gardnerian bachelor, because she wants Elloren to wandfast to him. She refuses, so her aunt makes her life miserable at Verpax, forcing Elloren to live with two winged “demon” icarals, work in a kitchen where she is taunted by “low-class” Urisk servants and shunned by a mysterious, handsome Kelt. Much to her horror, she is also forced to become lab partners with a male lupine in one of her classes. There’s no way to avoid other races because Verpax accepts everyone!
Elloren is also bullied by the jealous Fallon Bane, who wants to wandfast to Lukas Gray, and is the person everyone believes might be the next prophesied Black Witch. Elloren slowly begins to realize that everything she has been told about other races is veiled in lies, and Gardnerian history is not as she has been taught. All races are looking for the next Black Witch and the coming of the new, powerful, evil icaral, both of which have been foretold. As Elloren comes to trust her misfit roommates and classmates, she must ignore everything that she has learned about hate, judgment, and fear.
This recently released novel by Laurie Forest is the first in a new series by the same name. This is Ms. Forest’s debut novel, and she has burst upon the scene amidst some controversy. While some have heralded her novel, others have scorned it for its handling of prejudice and racism. I happen to be among those who think it is a brilliant fantasy story.
The world-building in The Black Witch is lush and descriptive. Verpax University is somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts Academy. The characters are well-developed, even down to the secondary characters. After viewing Ms. Forest’s Pinterest page and her Twitter tweets, it is easy to see how much thought and research went into her characters' descriptions. The prose and dialogue are beautiful and captivating. I especially like the lupines and their blunt, literal outlook on life.
The main themes in the novel are prejudice, racism, xenophobia, and propaganda. The different races in the book have been taught that all other races are evil, calculating, and inferior, and their race is the only one which is superior to all others. Elloren, her friends, and her brothers learn slowly to ignore what they have been taught for many years and accept and befriend those different from them. Although Elloren is not quick to realize that others’ views have influenced her opinions, there are more sequels to come so that she will be able to grow more in the future. That she was able to work with others to bring about change was welcome and refreshing.