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Don't like that.
Don't like that one bit.
#69: THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson
(obligatory "nice" comment)
You know how sometimes you read a book, and it's exactly what you're hoping it's going to be? This was that book for me.
It follows Immanuelle, a young woman growing up in a fantasy (?) puritanical community, ruled over by an abusive religious figure, who prosecutes those thought to be witches. When she finds herself called by vengeful forces into the Darkwood, where the witches used to gather, she has to choose whether to obey her patriarchal religion, or seek to stop the cycle of violence.
These kinds of stories (i.e. about prosecution of witches, who in turn have Actual Witch Powers) can really go either way for me. In fact, I think the only one that's done it well - and the thing I would probably compare this to the most - is the film Paranorman. Luckily, this, like said film, landed quite firmly on the "hell yeah" side of things, rather than the "fuck off" side.
What the author delivers is a really heart-wrenching story about abuse and trauma, and the ways in which violence and abuse perpetuate themselves. It doesn't shy away from what was done to the witches in question (not a traditional witch-burning story, but still bad), and the specifically religious abuse by their Prophet.
I thought the world, though insular, was well-developed, and I really liked all the characters and cared for the various relationships, even if I did sometimes wish the author had a little more faith in readers' ability to remember details. I thought it grappled really well with the political tensions and the uncertainty, not painting things over easily. I even liked the romance, which is a pretty small part of the story, but still.
One thing I would warn for, because I know many like to know these things [spoilers] is that the story does involve the death of the major victim of abuse and sexual assault. I think that it's handled well and respectfully by the author and the story, but YMMV about whether or not it was necessary.
In conclusion, yeah, if you're looking for a slightly-creepy story about survival and rebellion within an oppressive system, this is the book you want. This is, I think, what I was missing in Cinderella Is Dead last week, the element of realness that pervades this book. I read it in 24 hours, and had a hard time putting it down.
#70: THE MONSTER OF ELENDHAVEN by Jennifer Giesbrecht
So I picked this book up because I'd heard a lot of contradictory things about it, and find that I'm falling on the "meh" side of things, for a multitude of reasons.
The first reason, which is not insignificant, is that the optics of the book's main premise, i.e. that two queer men are trying to bring about a plague in the city of Elendhaven as revenge for how one's family was treated, are not...great.
I'm all for revenge stories and messy queer stories, but woof, the plague-based nature of this seems, uh, a little fucked up. I'm not a queer man, and I'm too young to remember the AIDS crisis, but even I don't think the exceptionally harmful stereotype of "queer men spreading disease" is a feature of the past. Maybe if this was written by a queer man it would at least have the ring of authenticity, but as is.......oof, I say. OOF.
The other part that didn't really work for me was the length. This book (novella?) is only about 100 pages long, which really wasn't enough for me to get all that attached to the characters or the plot itself. It seems like there was plenty of room for expansion without necessarily "padding" the book, but as is, it all just felt very rushed to me.
I liked some of the stylistic aspects and I'm always down for the weird, kind-of-fucked up dynamic that the main characters have, but that wasn't quite enough for me. Unfortunately, this one is a bit of a miss.
NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA:
#71: The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis
#72: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson