"The Witch Haven" review
Title: The Witch Haven
Author: Sasha Peyton Smith
Subgenre: Magical school
2021 Bingo squares: Found family, Mystery, Published in 2021, Debut, Witches
Recommend: Not really
A pretty mediocre YA novel, The Witch Haven is set in the early 20th century in New York, but the historical setting is mostly irrelevant to the novel, and it may as well take place anywhere without cell phones or the internet.
Frances’s brother died six months before the story starts, and she’s obsessed with finding his killer. Unfortunately, this is New York City and Frances isn’t wealthy, so no one else particularly cares about finding his killer. Frances works as a seamstress for a creepy old dude, and when said creepy old dude is about to assault her one night, she discovers she has magical powers and kills him by telekinetically stabbing him with her scissors.
She’s brought to the safety of Haxahaven, a magical school for witches disguised as a sanitarium. There, she becomes friends with Lena, who is the novel’s bright point: a Native girl who as far as I can tell is actually portrayed pretty well, and Maxine, who is super boring and has nothing going for her as a character.
I cannot tell why these three girls are friends; they seem to hate each other every moment they spend together, but Lena is the nicest character in the entire story so she is probably the glue that keeps them together and somehow makes it work because she’s desperately lonely and was at a residential school before being sent here and all she wants is to go back home to the reservation where her family is. Also none of the characters understand her at all or ask her questions to try to understand her and she seems totally miserable. So, portrayed pretty well.
Anyway, Haxahaven turns out to totally suck. Frances has to DeCiDe BeTwEeN tWo BoYs and it’s so difficult oh my (they don’t go to Haxahaven, it’s an all-girls school). There’s this spell they cast to see the first letter of their true love’s first name and it’s all so very YA and I just shouldn’t read YA novels because I really do not like them, and I don’t know why I read this.
Frances has basically zero redeeming qualities to her. She actually is just the worst. I can’t stand her. The positives that bring it up to 2.5 stars are:
- The deeper plot that doesn’t involve Frances, but that she just witnesses, is quite cool, and if Frances weren’t part of it, there’s some actual potential there
- The resolution to the murder mystery is pretty satisfying
If you don’t mind dealing with “YA bullshit” (lame romance plots, characters being annoying and making poor decisions that aren’t motivated by character flaws other than “being a teenager,” etc), then this is a pretty quick read, and it fills some Bingo squares. But I have a pretty low tolerance for “YA bullshit” so I didn’t enjoy this novel much at all. I probably would’ve DNF’d except that I didn’t want to DNF anything while I was doing Bingo, and it took me only a day to get through.