The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith — ARC Review

Summary:

The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

Review: 4 Stars

As soon as I saw the cover of this book I wanted to read it. I picked it up as soon as I was granted a review copy and by the end of the first chapter I was completely absorbed in this book. The Witch Haven is a historical fantasy set in New York City in the year 1911. The book starts with Frances killing her boss when he attacks her and then being whisked away to a school for witches that is disguised as a tuberculosis sanitarium. In a time when women are fighting for equality Frances is trhilled to find out she has magical power, but the Haxahaven school for witches teaches the girls to control their power rather than teach women how to be powerful.

Following Frances as she makes friends and the girls seek to learn how to use their power feels like the perfect story for the time period. The book was character driven, but it also had a compelling plot. Frances and her friends find a spellbook and start training to do magic with Finn, who was a friend of Frances’ late brother William. Frances is driven by grief from the loss of her brother and works to become powerful enough to perform a spell that will let her speak to her dead brother. Most of the book follows the girls as they secretly train to become stronger and their quest to find all of the items needed for the spell.The plot is compelling and had a few twists that I didn’t expect, but the characters were what made this book so good.

Frances was a well written main character. Watching her grow into someone powerful and struggle with moral decisions was one of my favorite aspects of this book. Frances’ grief over losing her brother drives a lot of her choices and I feel like her grief is written so well. She is so emotionally raw that you can’t help but empathize with her. I also really loved the friendship between Maxine, Lena and Frances. Maxine was so passionate and full of life, Frances’ friendship with her was quite a roller-coaster. Lena was more gentle and kind, but also easy to love. The three of them became so close and I loved the found family vibes. I wanted to know a bit more about them though, especially Maxine as I found her more interesting than Lena.

There was a love triangle in this book and the romances were a big part of the story, but they didn’t overshadow the rest of the book. I was hoping Frances would wind up with the other character and felt like the love interest that she did wind up with wasn’t written as well. This led to me having some mixed feelings about the ending of the book, but overall I really liked the book as a whole. The book didn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it did end in a way that leads me to believe that there might be a sequel.

The Witch Haven was a historical fantasy book with some feminist themes. It’s set in a time period where women are fighting for their rights and there is an interesting contrast between the historical events and the witches at Haxahaven secretly working to become powerful. It’s a great story about women, friendship, grief and morality. If you enjoy feminist themes, witches or historical fantasy I would definitely recommend you give The Witch Haven a shot.

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