Thank you to Elise for sending me a recommendation and a copy, as only the best friends would 🥰
For a darkly atmospheric world, for the loveliest gray shaded characters, for an MC that is so purely good and selfless and my god is that just what I needed to read especially in the midst of 2020 elections…
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.
October was my month of reading spooky witchy books, and this one was SO much better than I expected! I went in somewhat blind to it thanks to a recommendation from my friend, so maybe it’s more accurate to say I didn’t really have expectations. Regardless, the atmosphere and world of this book was incredible. The sinister yet compelling darkwoods came to life despite their immersion in death. The brutality of the world was cruel to face, but didn’t allow you to look away as brides are cut to bleed and hot pokers brand justice from loved ones.
That unflinching darkness is what made the complexity of good and evil so rich in this story. There was so much gray area, despite the enforced beliefs stating otherwise. Bethel operates on dichotomies: the Father is good and the Mother is evil; followers are pure, and those on the Outskirts are heathen; Bethel is safe and the Darkwoods mean death. Immanuelle fights those dichotomies despite wishing she simply believed them. But when her own existence is part of the proof against life in Bethel, she refuses to hide from the truth.
Consequences of actions are never carefully smoothed over; the harsh reality always remains, and that’s what shows our characters’ true strength. They recognize that their decision could have potentially catastrophic personal consequences, and still weigh that evenly to come to a course of action in the name of goodness. Typically the martyring female hero bugs the hell out of me, but that’s not what this was despite how it could look that way superficially. I loved Immanuelle. I’m also glad she never had a nickname, and was consistently Immanuelle.
So yes, this story was fabulous. It was sinister yet hopeful. I’ve genuinely never read anything like it, but I surely want to find more in this vein, if they exist.
PS – this book is currently a nominee for the Goodreads book awards, and y’all I think for once I can vote for a horror book. 🤣