I haven’t read much young adult fiction since Rowling’s Harry Potter and Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, so this was a departure from my usual reading material. I became aware of the book because it sparked an odd controversy, but before I address that issue I’ll discuss it on its own merits. The Black Witch takes place in a fantasy world in which significant portions of the population have magical or semi-magical capabilities. Like Harry Potter, it features a young person attending a special school. The setting, however, is like an updated version of Lord of the Rings. It’s a world dominated by magical beings such as wizards, elves, dragons, werewolves living alongside non-magical humans.
The protagonist is Elloren, a young woman of a wizarding people called Gardnerians. Though she comes from an aristocratic family, she has led a sheltered life in a remote village. Like Harry Potter, she and her brothers are orphans raised by an uncle – but he’s a kind man who loves them dearly. Also unlike Harry, she is devoid of magical powers. As Elloren prepares to attend University, her wealthy and powerful Aunt Vyvian arrives to offer her financial support, on the condition that she agrees to an engagement to the son of another powerful Gardnerian family. Elloren refuses, even though arranged marriages are the norm in her society.
The story gets more interesting as Elloren arrives at Verpax University in the neighboring nation of Verpacia. Though most countries in this world are mono-cultural, Verpacia is a sort of crossroads with a diverse population. Elloren is surprised and hurt at the hate and resentment she receives from students of other races. At first, she assumes it’s jealousy because her grandmother was the Black Witch, a renowned and feared leader of her people. Gradually she learns that the Black Witch committed war crimes against other peoples during the recent Realm War. Shockingly, Elloren begins to fall for a boy who isn’t Gardnerian. She befriends a group of outcasts and malcontents and decides to oppose her grandmother’s oppressive legacy – a stance that imperils her freedom, perhaps even her life.
Now I’ll address the controversy. Social-justice types targeted the book and its author for condemnation because of alleged racism. Yet as I’ve shown, The Black Witch has a profoundly anti-racist message. How could any progressive condemn it? As I understand it, Elloren represents the white oppressor who is unfairly excused for the crimes of her race. This absurd argument told me there must be another reason for the attacks, perhaps something the author had done. I discovered that Ms. Forest had given a favorable review to Jon Delarroz, a Hispanic sci-fi author who’s been ostracized over his support for Donald Trump. Perhaps that’s why a certain reviewer constructed a spurious, post-modernist B.S. argument against The Black Witch. Unfortunately, this critic fooled many of her followers.
Don’t believe dishonest, politically-motivated criticism. The Black Witch is a fast-paced story with interesting world-building and engaging characters. In my opinion, its only flaw is that its anti-racist message is a trifle too blatant. Despite that minor shortcoming, I strongly recommend it.