The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
English | 2020 | Fantasy, Horror | ePUB | 4.2 Mb
A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.
“It’ll be enough,” said Leah hollowly. Then, more firmly, as though she was trying to convince herself: “It will have to be enough. Even if I’m forced to ride the roads on the Prophet’s own horse, I’ll find a way to see you. I won’t let things change. I swear.”
Immanuelle wanted to believe her, but she was too good at spotting lies, and she could tell there was some falsity in Leah’s voice. Still, she made no mention of it. No good would come of it anyway: Leah was bound to the Prophet, and had been since the day he first laid eyes on her two summers prior. The ring she wore was merely a placeholder, a promise wrought in gold. In due time, that promise would take the form of the seed he’d plant in her. Leah would birth a child, and the Prophet would plant his seed again, and again, as he did with all his wives while they were still young enough to bear its fruit.
Immanuelle looked up to see that the group that had been playing in the river shallows was now drawing near, waving as they approached. There were four of them. Two girls, a pretty blonde Immanuelle knew only in passing from classes at the schoolhouse, and Judith Chambers, the Prophet’s newest bride. Then there were the boys. Peter, a hulking farmhand as thick-shouldered as an ox, and about as intelligent, the son of the first apostle. Next to him, with eyes narrowed against the sun, was Ezra, the Prophet’s son and successor.
Ezra was tall and dark-haired, with ink-black eyes. He was handsome too, almost wickedly so, drawing the stares of even the most pious wives and daughters. Although he was scarcely more than nineteen, he wore one of the twelve golden apostle’s daggers on a chain around his neck, an honor that most men of Bethel, despite their best efforts, went a lifetime without achieving.
The blond girl, Hope, who had called to Leah, piped up first. “You two look like you’re making the most of your day.”
Leah raised a hand to her brow to shade her eyes from the sun, smiling as she peered up at them. “Will you join us?”
Immanuelle cursed silently as the four sat down in the grass beside them. The ox boy, Peter, began rummaging through the contents of the picnic basket, helping himself to a hearty serving of bread and jam. Hope wedged herself between Immanuelle and Leah and immediately began prattling on about the latest gossip of the town, which largely centered on some poor girl who had been sent to the market stocks for tempting a local farmer into adultery. Ezra claimed the spot across from Immanuelle, and Judith flanked him, sitting so close that their shoulders touched.
As the conversation wore on, Immanuelle did her best to make herself small and unassuming, willing herself invisible. Unlike Leah, she didn’t have a stomach for socialities. In comparison to the grace and charm of Hope, Leah, and Judith, she suspected she looked about as dull as one of her sister’s corn-husk dolls.