# of Pages: 601
Time it took me to read: 3 days
# of pages a day to finish in a week: 86
Rating: 5 out of 5
Elloren Gardener has a lot to live up to. She is the only granddaughter of the Black Witch, the savior of her people. Elloren has been raised by her gentle uncle and her two brothers out in the countryside, away from the politics of the Western Realm. But when her aunt, an official in her country’s government, comes to collect her and take her to the University, the world will suddenly become much bigger and more complex. Because though Elloren has always known she has no magic, people expect certain things of her. Elloren struggles to learn the difference between what her people tell her is the right thing, and what she feels in her heart is the right thing. History is set to repeat itself, because a new threat is rising, and a new Black Witch must rise to face it. Elloren must make alliances fast, because she can’t do it all on her own. But all alliances come with a price, and Elloren must make the decision to do what is easy, or what is right.
Oh my gosh, I love, love, LOVED this book. I know I said Carry On was my book of the year for 2017 so far, but I think this one might have it beat. I don’t know, I can’t say, I’ll decide at the end of the year, but I absolutely devoured this book. I read a six hundred page book in three days, and honestly, I read probably about 350 pages of it on the last day when I had the most time.
This book is the pure essence of what fantasy should be. It is packed with magic, dragons, elves, and all other manner of creatures. But it is also, without a doubt, the most relevant and relatable fantasy book that I have ever read.
When I first started reading this book, I was immediately sucked into the world and how it worked. It is clear that Forest put a lot of effort into creating her sometimes recognizable, but totally unique take on fantasy creatures, and into her world’s rich history, including unique religions and belief systems for her different cultures, and politics and rituals that are totally distinctive and absolutely riveting.
However, though the world had me sold from page one, Elloren frustrated the living hell out of me. Why? Because she is quite possibly the most naïve and ignorant main character I have ever read. Like I was irritated with her almost to the point of being enraged. Because this book is about politics, history, and racism. Like modern, legitimate racism, fitted to the fantasy world. Elloren is a part of the race, named after her distant relative, the Gardenarians. These are a race of mages that are extremely religious and conservative, but are the only race that is capable of wand magic. And their holy book teaches them that they are the superior race because of this, and that they are the rightful leaders of the Western Realm because they have a long history of being oppressed and they overcame that (thanks to the help of Elloren’s famous grandmother, the Black Witch).
I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get over how little I thought of Elloren as a character, but then I had a breakthrough. Her ignorance is brilliant and necessary. In fact, I think most main characters should be as shaped by their environments as Elloren is. She is raised by her kind hearted uncle and her sweet, loving brothers, so she’s a good person, at her core. But she has also been raised to believe that her grandmother was the savior of all of her people, a saint who was a martyer to the cause of bringing the Gardenarians to their rightful position as the superior race of the Western Realm. Their religion even tells her that the Gardenarians are the righteous children of the Ancient One, so of course she’s going to believe what she’s told. She’s never had an experience that told her a different side of the story. Until she goes out in to the world. I don’t want to spoil anything, because I think that ANYONE who is a fan of fantasy should read this book. Because it is so relevant to our society. Like, Elloren has to learn all about historical bias, which is something that most people I know could stand to learn something about. History in our schools is taught with such a bias toward the American side of things, it’s insane. It’s a real problem in our world, and it’s a real problem for Elloren.
Seriously, seriously, I cannot rant and rave enough about how IMPORTANT this book is. Because this book is a viciously fun read that totally has applicable lessons for our every day life, but it doesn’t preach them or shove them in your face. Like I remember getting about two hundred pages in, reading a certain part of the book, looking up and saying out loud to no one, “Oh my god, this book is about RACISM!” And it is. Like I could honestly sit here and summarize for hours why this book is a triumph in that regard, but I’m going to try and talk for a while about the many other reasons why I loved this book.
The cast of characters was so enormous, and each character was so different. Typically I think that books that have this many relevant characters can get a bit bogged down. Like, how am I supposed to remember all these names and who everyone is. And there are a few moments in this book where I kind of felt that way, but the thing is, they’re all important! No two characters in this book serve the same purpose, and that’s an insane success. All of the people who surround Elloren in this story have a very specific purpose, something that they teach her. Sometimes it’s obvious, but often times it’s subtle.
I’ll use a non-spoilery example. Echo Flood is a young Gardenarian who goes to school with Elloren, and who Elloren’s aunt wishes her to befriend. She is married (or “wandfasted”) already, dresses conservatively, and comes from a good family. At first, Elloren really likes Echo. She feels like Echo is nice to her when few others, even those of her own race, aren’t. But then Echo pulls away from Elloren, and she wonders why. She later overhears her saying something along the lines of “well, I just couldn’t be around her anymore because she insisted on hanging out with half-breeds”. She means a childhood friend of Elloren’s, a Gardenarian who has an unusual coloring of his hair that means he might have impure blood.
Now, Echo is not that important of a character in the overall scope of things, and there are other characters that give much more obvious examples of the racism in her world, but even I liked Echo in the beginning, until her true colors showed. She was a truly well written character that really was just one of the many nails in the coffin of the racism lessons of this book.
Just to quickly summarize my super ranty points: amazingly unique and detailed world, incredibly engaging religions and political systems, main character that is so singularly ignorant and a total product of her culture, huge cast of amazingly different and important side characters, well-paced from the start, and plot that is super complex and interesting. And of course, how totally woke this book is. Honestly, I’d give it higher than a 5 out of 5 if I believed in that sort of thing. I have never read a book like this, and all I want is more! But I have to wait until next year, and I’m depressed about it.
Please, please, please read it so I can talk about it with people. If you can’t afford to buy it, try using your local library. I used it though so much of my childhood, but haven’t used it so much in my adulthood, but I’m getting back into the habit. As much as I like to own books, I’m also pretty poor, and going to a wonderful world where books are free and they have every book that I could even conceive of, is pretty amazing. Wow, they should be paying me.
Anyway, I’ll sign off now. If you’ve read this book, please send me a message or post a comment because I know literally nobody else who’s read it yet and I’m dying. See you all next week!
If you liked The Black Witch, try: Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong
Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill
Poisen Study by Maria V. Snyder
Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce