Yay, this day has come at last! I’ve been waiting for six months to recommend Virginia Boecker‘s thrilling alternate history YA fantasy debut, The Witch Hunter, which will be published next month. I am always eager to read books about witches, and I was ecstatic when a digital review copy of The Witch Hunter became available on Edelweiss in late October. It’s a page-turner that I practically finished in one day (back in November) and read again a few days ago.
The Witch Hunter has everything I look for in fantasy. Elizabeth Grey is a feisty and fierce heroine, who is also complex, conflicted and flawed. The plot is fast-paced, action-driven, addictive, and full of twists and turns. There’s high-stakes adventure and romance, mystery, dark magic, a deadly curse, unlikely alliances, betrayal, and sacrifice.
The Witch Hunter brilliantly reimagines an alternate 16h century England (Anglia) where magic is real and forbidden. The kingdom has always been divided by Reformists (magic supporters and practitioners) and Persecutors (magic opposers). Until recently, however, magic was not only permitted in Anglia but was also welcomed. Wanting Reformists and Persecutors to coexist peacefully, Anglia’s previous king (Malcolm’s father) appointed the most powerful wizard and leader of the Reformists, Nicholas Perevil, to his council. That was a big mistake. A magic-induced plague, which Perevil is accused of creating, killed half of Anglia’s population (including the king and Elizabeth’s parents). Wanting desperately to capture Perevil and put an end to sorcery, the Inquisitor, Lord Blackwell, formed the anti-magic laws that witch hunters enforce.
The Witch Hunter‘s first-person, present-tense narration immediately threw me into Elizabeth’s contentious world. The book opens with her standing at the edge of a crowded square on a burning day. She and her best friend Caleb watch four witches and three wizards burn at the stake, before embarking on their own risky witch hunt. She is the only female witch hunter in King Malcolm’s elite group, led by Blackwell, and one of the best at capturing magic-users. Witch hunters are branded with stigmas that protect them from injury, and she is a kick-ass heroine. Witch hunting is becoming more precarious, however. Reformist rebellions are on the rise, and to avoid being targeted, she and Caleb must hide their witch hunter identities and live at the king’s main residence, Ravenscourt, disguised as his servants. Also a terrible secret distracts her from doing her best witch hunting: she is at the mercy of King Malcolm, whose sexual advances she can not refuse.
The first plot turn happens quickly. When Elizabeth is caught with contraceptive herbs, she is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death…before being saved by her greatest enemies. What happens next? I’m not going to tell you. Preorder The Witch Hunter now and find out for yourself on June 2nd.
Alyssa Raymond reviews books for the Boulder Book Store (where she worked as a bookseller for ten years). She also blogs about new and upcoming MG and YA releases at Coven Book Club and its recently-launched sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, the publisher and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with a DRC of this book for review purposes; her opinions are her own. Please follow Spellbinding Books on Twitter and Tumblr.