I’m back today with another review! Since Christmas Break started, I have been able to read and blog more frequently. Due to this, I actually have lots of reviews to write so this will be one of many coming within the next few weeks!
Without further ado, Let’s talk about The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith!
Book: The Witch Haven
Author: Sasha Peyton Smith
Published: August 31st 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Fiction // Fantasy // Historical Fiction
Content Warnings: Death, Murder, Grief, Racism, Sexual Assault, Mental Illness
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?
As soon as I read the premise and gazed upon the cover of The Witch Haven, I knew I had to pick this one up. I hadn’t heard much about this book around the blogosphere so I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised!
The Witch Haven is a historical fantasy set in the 1900s filled with a magical boarding school that poses as a sanatorium, witches, and a murder mystery. This book was able to take a well-played-out concept creating it into a new inventive story that captures readers from the start. Many times a debut ends up falling flat, but I can happily say this didn’t happen
“To be a witch is to have power in a world where women have none.”– The Witch Haven, Sasha Peyton Smith
I don’t read much historical fiction. There is a specific reason why. When books are set in historical places or periods, these factors aren’t used to their full extent. This was not a problem at all with The Witch Haven. Smith did a fantastic job of using the historical period of the early 1900s to her advantage.
During the early 1900s, women were considered less than. Society expected that they would take care of the house and kids. Women have held to a standard that it was “unladylike” to get a job outside the house and have their own opinions. The Witch Haven contains a powerful feminist premise showing how women wanted to have more of an impact. Almost all the characters are strong, brave females who wanted something more than they had.
Not only do we get to see this feminist premise, but we are also able to see through one of the characters, Lena, who is indigenous, that these views reached only so far. We were able to see through her how things were changing for women that, at this time, it only meant white women. It was a powerful thing to witness; that even though she was a woman, she still wasn’t on the same level.
“I’m not yet sure who I am. But I could be this. Powerful. Reckless. It’s intoxicating”– The Witch Haven, Sasha Peyton Smith
Frances, our main character, was an enjoyable main character to follow for the story. I found the portrayal and exploration of grief in Frances to be written very well. After finding out about the death of her brother William, we can see the effect this takes on her. It impacts her decisions and drives her to act rashly without properly thinking things through. It’s written in a way where you can see how important her brother was to her and why she makes the choices she does even if they aren’t the best.
Not only does this book have a strong feminist presence, but it also has a fun trio that screams friendship goals. Frances, Lena, and Maxine create a tight bond helping Frances as she searches for her brother’s murder while giving her advice along the way. It was a joy reading about their adventures as they sneak out to learn new magic, and I wish we got more from this trio! I wished we dived more into Lena and Maxine instead of the romance. I found that these two were the characters I wanted more.
“Women are supposed to be competent at everything, but experts at nothing. Haven’t you heard?”– The Witch Haven, Sasha Peyton Smith
I have a bit of a complicated relationship with romance in books. Sometimes I love it want to see more or loathe it wanting it to stop. In this case, I wasn’t the biggest fan of romance. With this feminist premise, I would have liked to see Frances rely on herself and her friends to bring more to girl power. There was also a love triangle somewhat. You might wonder what I mean by somewhat. One of the love interests was barely around with Frances, which didn’t necessarily make sense. I feel the point of love interests is that they are around a character spending time with them as their feelings grow for one another.
The ending is open and leads the readers to believe that more will come in the future. I’m interested to see if there was a sequel what direction it would take since the ending seemed to close off the story for most of the characters.
Overall, this was a fun read filled with magic, witches, boarding school, and a murder mystery. With lovable characters, a strong feminist premise, and friendships goals, you are sure to love this book!