Top positive review
4.0 out of 5 starsA Good Read with Some Production Flaws
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 14, 2017
I enjoyed stepping into Laurie Forest's fantasy world and experiencing the magic, setting, and demographics along with naive Elloren.
The high points of the novel for me were
(1) diverse cast of characters, each with her own agenda, some obvious, others not so obvious.
(2) a world and University where different races interact, each with its own beliefs and customs.
(3) an imaginative magic system and set of abilities (telling the origin tree from touching an object or material) that made Elloren a unique protagonist.
(4) combating the old guard, which mirrors in many ways young adults having to fight our parents' generation's outdated ways of thoughts.
The weak points were few, mostly production-related:
(1) the writing isn't always of as high a quality as you'd hope. The description goes on too long at times. First-person present tense limits the amount of sophistication in the writing, and restricts suspense. First person present POV occasionally makes the telling seem infantile and too immediate. Third-person past would have been more appropriate, given that this is an older audience (characters are all in their late teens, nearly college-age and above).
(2) excessive politics. I hate politics in real life and don't want to read government intrigue in fiction either. As a first book in the series, Laurie Forest would have done better minimizing all the talk of government roles, who's who in the adult mage rankings, and other rather boring diversions. I thought Mage Marcus Vogel's rise happened too fast to be believable, and Elloren simply hears about it one day, like a convenient plot device sprung too suddenly. Stick to the school, the fantasy, and the immediate plot surrounding Elloren, and the book would have easily been five stars.
(3) lusty description. Elloren's repeated sensual descriptions of her physical and mental obsession with Yvan really took away from the novel. I didn't buy Black Witch for chick lit-level romance, and it did feel blatantly directed at a female audience much too often. Elloren's attraction to Yvan was clear from the start, and relentlessly pounding that into my head almost made me want to put down the novel at several points later in the book. His strong jaw, intense gaze, muscular body, warm touch, ... these were all way too overdone for a fantasy YA novel. Way too sappy, way too sensual, way too distracting from the novel's main plot. Even Lukas, who strangely disappears halfway through the novel, is presented too sensually, making me question whether the author wanted to write a fantasy novel or a steamy romance.
(4) protagonist inactivity. I kept waiting for Elloren to gain magical powers, but we see almost no sign of it until her magical accident in the last few chapters. Even then, it is clear she has little control of her powers, and almost all of the plot events happen because of other characters intervening. Lukas saving her from the kitchen assistants. Assassins saving her from Fallon Bane. Yvan attacking Damion Bane before Elloren can swing her skillet. Yvan saving her from the dragons. Professor Kristian saving Tierney. In MG/YA, the protagonist needs to be a prime catalyst for overcoming antagonistic forces, and even though I have full confidence Elloren will one day face down Fallon Bane, her lack of action did nothing to help the novel. Even if she didn't yet have control of magic -- despite her learning at University -- I wanted her to at least grow, learn, and show something: magic, attacking with the skillet, any kind of physical intervention instead of always fleeing and letting her friends do the dirty work. She's the protagonist!
(5) the book is available only in hardcover (even the UK doesn't have paperbacks yet), and the pages are all of differing lengths with fringed edges, like the printing machine just torn them apart. This makes the book seem of a much lower quality than it really is, and it makes it harder to turn the pages, even as the story keeps me reading fast. The cover is also plain and easily torn.
(6) the map also seems needlessly plain to the left and right of the spine, devoid of important geography or towns. Ironically, all of the important towns, cities, and landmarks all cluster around the central spine of the book's binding, making it hard to see the most important places. Since so much of the story takes place in University, a closer-up map of the University grounds, much like J.K. Rowling includes with Harry Potter's Hogwarts, would have been more appropriate.
Overall, relating young girl school life to a world of high fantasy and magic makes for fantastic reading. It is much more exciting than Tolkien and other high fantasy where little to no action happens, and where teens can't relate to characters because the background is too foreign. I can relate to Elloren, and her friends and foils all have believable personalities. Well done!