Mini-Review | The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker (The Witch Hunter, #1)

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Another mini-review—this one goes over Virginia Boecker's YA debut The Witch Hunter, which I think could have been a lot better.

Release Date: June 2, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Category: YA
Genre(s): Fantasy, alternate history
Pages: 368 (hardcover)
Format/Source: Paperback ARC, Received from publisher (Many thanks to Little, Brown!)
Your greatest enemy isn't what you fight, but what you fear.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king's best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she's accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that's been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth's witch hunting past—if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she's thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.


a fun light read that, in retrospect, didn't click with me super well.

I first heard about The Witch Hunter because the author, Virginia Boecker, is part of the Freshman Fifteens (which you may remember as the group of 2015 debut YA authors that includes my lovely COMMON ROOM mentor Kim Liggett). At the time, it sounded like a really cool, action-packed, twisty YA fantasy—and you all know I'm always up for that. So I was ridiculously pleased to receive an ARC in the mail from Little, Brown.
and look the title page is gorgeous
The book was a really fast read—the pacing felt a little jerky at times, going back and forth from action to calm a little too quickly sometimes, but overall it was very snappy and speedy. There was lots of action and fight scenes, which is always nice, because I love reading fast fight scenes. This book is a definite page-turner. Actually, I was originally planning on rating this book a solid four stars, because while I was reading, I definitely enjoyed myself. It wasn't anything mind-blowing, to be sure, but it was fun.

However, I eventually decided to lower my rating because The Witch Hunter didn't hold up so well in retrospect.

While the characters were pretty endearing on the surface (resident 'mean girl' Fifer especially), none of them stood out to me as individuals I was deeply invested in. The heroine, Elizabeth, seemed serviceable but nothing special, and while I appreciate her willingness to question her own morals and address her flaws, she seemed very readily convinced to switch sides when it was convenient. Most of the side cast kind of fell flat, including the sweet but incredibly bland love interest (whose relationship with Elizabeth frankly screams instalove). Although the dialogue is cute here and there and I didn't outright hate anyone, there's not a ton of attention given to developing characters in a realistic and dynamic way, and that hurts this book overall.

I haven't read a lot of alternate history books, so when I figured out that this was one of them, I got really excited. Especially because this is an alternate spin on the Reformation in England, aka 1500s aka one of my favorite time periods ever to learn/read about. I thought that witch hunting, alternate Reformation, and magic would meld to produce an incredibly complex, layered storyworld. Unfortunately, it didn't really feel like that was the case. The magic wasn't anything all that different from what's already out there, as there wasn't a hugely original magic system. The rest of the worldbuilding wasn't that extensive, either; to me, it felt like a light fantasy world with a thin layer of semi-history on the surface. It wasn't bad worldbuilding necessarily; it just wasn't all that good, either.

The prose was fairly decent in that it did its job and let scenes play out without grating on my nerves, but it didn't stand out to me as especially well-crafted. However, I do tend to focus on style a lot as a reader, so it could be just me who wasn't satisfied by the writing. Also, at times I was really annoyed because the writing style itself felt like something of an anachronism, flip-flopping between a 'historical' tone and a modern one—I don't know about you, but I don't think the word 'okay' has a place in ANY version of sixteenth-century England. (According to Google, it didn't really come into use until the mid-1800s.) Little things like that kept bothering me as I was reading, and I think these distracting inaccuracies detracted significantly from my reading experience. Then again, I nitpick a lot, so they probably won't have quite as pronounced of an effect on many other readers.

Additionally, you can kind of see the twists coming from a mile off. I say this as someone who's usually ridiculously bad at guessing plot twists. It's really, really easy to surprise me with a plot because sometimes twists can be staring me right in the face several pages in advance and I. Won't. See. Them. But in this book nothing felt all that shocking, which was a letdown because the blurb seemed like it was promising a thoroughly convoluted plot.

There's also another thing that really, really bothers me about this book that feels very problematic. It's kind of a spoiler, so I'll enclose it with a button, but it forms a large part of my reasoning behind my rating. So I feel it's my duty to inform you all.


In the book, Elizabeth has a 'relationship' with the the king of Anglia, the alternate England where the book is set. It's essentially rape. But the book never delves into the trauma that this must have caused for Elizabeth, effectively using rape as nothing more than a plot device and spending little to no time exploring Elizabeth's resulting emotions or her recovery from this abuse. The rape doesn't really factor into Elizabeth's character at all, and it's not used to discuss sexual violence in depth. To me, that's incredibly disappointing and I feel it trivializes the experiences of survivors.

I'd say give this a shot if you're looking for something quick and fun, but go in knowing that it's not perfect. If you're looking for a truly groundbreaking YA fantasy, I personally think that you'd be much better served elsewhere.

Favorite Quotes

I'm quiet for a moment, enchanted by the idea of something stealing over you, settling into you, and telling you, with absolute certainty, who you are and what you're meant to do.

So what do you think? Is this something you'd like to try out or is it not for you? Or, do you have a favorite debut of 2015 so far?

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