From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—It is one thing to be the granddaughter of Carnissa Gardner, the legendary Black Witch, but it's another to be the spitting image of her. Elloren Gardner discovers this from the moment she is uprooted from her uncle's secluded house and enrolled at Verpax University, which is rumored to be "racially integrated," to Elloren's great shock (Elloren shares her aunt's opinion that the integration is "misguided"). While outwardly resembling a bildungsroman, albeit a fantasy one, this novel features a protagonist who remains naive for far too long and, unfortunately, is painfully slow to confront the racist attitudes that she has inherited and that are essential to Gardnerian dominance. By the book's end, readers will wonder if she has learned anything at all. Teens will have to get through hundreds of pages of stereotypical characterizations of marginalized groups (non-Gardnerians are hateful and ultraviolent, their blood is "polluted," they mate like animals, the non-Gardnerian women are trying to steal Gardnerian men, etc.) before Elloren begins to recognize that maybe Gardnerians are the bad guys in her realm. Although unlearning prejudices is a timely theme in YA, Forest handles this issue clumsily. In a particularly rough, tone-deaf scene, mean girl Fallon berates Effrey, a purple-skinned enslaved Urisk girl. Elloren eventually comes to the rescue, and Sparrow, another enslaved girl, approves of her actions with a smile—just one of the many white savior—like moments throughout. The world-building also leaves a lot to be desired: the Gardnerian creation story is an almost verbatim retelling of Genesis, and there are sporadic, vague mentions of martial arts and elemental spirits in this otherwise "Harry Potter" meets Tolkien universe. VERDICT Poor writing and character development contribute to an overall uneven handling of race and racism in a fantasy setting.—Della Farrell, School Library Journal
ABA Indiebound – Summer 2017 Kids' Indie Next List Pick
"This briskly paced, tightly plotted novel enacts the transformative power of education, creating engaging characters set in a rich alternative universe with a complicated history that can help us better understand our own. A massive page-turner that leaves readers longing for more." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Forest uses a richly imagined magical world to offer an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice."
-Booklist, starred review
"Exquisite character work, an elaborate mythology, and a spectacularly rendered universe make this a noteworthy debut, which argues passionately against fascism and xenophobia.
-Publishers Weekly, starred review
"I absolutely loved The Black Witch and will have a very hard time waiting for the second book! Maximum suspense, unusual magic--a whole new, thrilling approach to fantasy!" -Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"The Black Witch is a refreshing, powerful young adult fantasy. This strong debut offers an uncompromising glimpse of world-altering politics amplified by a magical setting in which prejudice and discrimination cut both ways." -Robin Hobb, New York Times bestselling author
"We fell under the spell of this rich, diverse, Potter-worthy university world!
Characters that come alive off the page, tangled relationships, swoonworthy romance!
Love the fresh way this also tackles prejudice. Prepare to fangirl!"
"A powerful start to a new series, and a very impressive first novel." -Locus