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Book reivew: 'The Black Witch' a captivating fantasy read

Posted May 3

"THE BLACK WITCH," by Laurie Forest, Harlequin Teen, $19.99, 608 pages (f) (ages 14 and up)

In "The Black Witch" by Laurie Forest, Elloren is the granddaughter of the revered Black Witch of Gardenia — liberator of the Gardenians and the reason for their political power in the land of Erthia. Raised by her loving, absent-minded uncle in an isolated village far from Gardenia’s capital, 17-year-old Elloren’s life suddenly changes when her uncle abruptly sends her to the university with her two brothers rather than see her “wandfasted,” a Gardenian betrothal practice. Although Elloren has manifested no magic of her own, her powerful and imposing Aunt Vyvian is still determined that Elloren be wandfasted to Lukas Grey, a handsome and powerful Gardenian.

Elloren refuses for her uncle’s sake and attends the university, where integration policies expose her to Kelts, Elves, Urisks, the shapeshifting Lupine and the dreaded winged Icaral — ethnic groups believed by most of her people to be inferior to Gardenians. These interactions are initially rife with hostility, but Elloren’s fear and anger gradually give way to curiosity and a desire for greater understanding.

Elloren learns that each race has its own version of history, and that Gardenians don’t necessarily have a corner on truth.

This is Forest’s first published novel, and she has built a fascinating, richly detailed and magical world. Forest shrewdly weaves social and political commentary through a compellingly readable story of fantasy, action, mystery and romance.

The story contains violence, some in battle and some through descriptions of the way oppressors have hurt others. Such descriptions are unsettling but not overtly violent. It is a romantic story as Elloren discovers and copes with attraction for different men. There are discussions about sex and the perceived sexual customs of another civilization. One important character is same-sex attracted, and this fact is handled subtly and sympathetically, with only a passing reference to any kind of romantic interaction.

In spite of some wheel-turning during the heroine’s beginning days at the university, the book is difficult to put down. Forest’s story is likely to make readers feel a little depressed about having to wait for book two.

Debra Stillman is a former lawyer and current mother to four small kids. Contact her at debrastillman@hotmail.com or read more of her writing at http://debrasays.blogspot.com/.

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