Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Review: The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

Today's review hits a best-seller and a fantasy set in the US around 1910. It's placed in an alternate New York and swirls around...  yep, you guessed it (as if the cover doesn't make it obvious)... witches. After reading the surmise, I was looking forward to diving into this one, and did push and shove until I found a way to work it into my schedule. Ready to see if my finagling was worth it?

by Sasha Peyton Smith
Simon & Schuster
Young Adult Fantasy
448 pages

An instant New York Times bestseller!

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?



With tons of unexpected twists and turns, a mound of grit, and dangerous magic, this is a tale which weaves and builds tension until the very end.

Frances' brother was murdered and her mother hauled off to the asylum, leaving her alone to survive as a seamstress in a workhouse. When the drunken owner tries to have his way with her, a scissors flies through the air, leaving him dead. She'll pay for the murder; she's sure. But when a odd pair of nurses swipe her out of police hands, claiming she has tuberculous, her world takes a dive she never dreamed possible. The sanitarium she's taken to is an academy for witches in disguise, but the rules and classes make it more like a prison. When strange notes appear on her pillow and claim they can help her find her brother's killer, Frances breaks one of the main rules and sneaks out of the school's grounds. Little does she know that the deadly game is just about to begin.

The blurb caught my attention, and I was hoping it'd be a fun, thrilling ride. I wasn't disappointed. The author weaves a very rich tale full of magic, deceit, intrigue, power plays, murder, and even a magical academy. The book starts out very well, drawing the reader in and shooting the tension high. The atmosphere of the working class of New York around 1910 sets the perfect scene with it's struggles and dismal outlook. While I was afraid the arrival at the academy was going to send this in a very different direction and ruin the read...which it did start to do a little bit, the author managed to steer clear enough to keep the dark tones and shadows through-out the read and keep this enough in the outer world to steer clear of a heavy academy flavor. In other words, word building and atmosphere get almost full points.

Frances is a girl with a lot on her plate, and she does the best she can with all of it. Her character carries an edge of darkness, which made her more realistic than one with a heart of pure gold. Some of her decisions are rash, but it's not over the top. The other characters don't gain nearly as much depth, but there are quite a few of them as she tries to learn who to trust and who not. I did wish that we'd learn more about her so-called friends, since this bond didn't quite hit home the way it needed in creating a golden friendship. Still, it was well done enough, and the surprises between character relationships are very laid out and hard to see coming.

This read does hit upon violent deaths and carries some gore. All of it fits well to the read and does build the necessary atmosphere. There is a beginning rape scene, but this ends almost as quickly as it starts. What is probably most present on the trigger end is the manipulation of people...which does lead to murder and death. Again, this is necessary for the tale and gives it delicious tension and needed depth while also fitting the characters, intrigue and such wonderfully. I wasn't quite okay, though, with how the author almost dismisses some of the actions at the end, but then, the end did happen a tiny bit neatly and fast. Since there are hints at a book two coming, I have no doubt this will work well in the end, though.

This one was hard to put down. There were so many twists, which were impossible to see coming and, yet, made sense. It plays with the emotions masterfully and keeps the reader at the edge of their seat. I do want to add that the author also made sure to slip in the usual LGBTQ, racism, and such, which sometimes fit better than others, but again, I'm hoping this gains more of a solid meaning as the possible (I hope there is one) series continues. I'm definitely recommending this one to all fans of witches, intrigue, power plays and such out there because it is a good read.

And here she is...

Sasha Peyton Smith grew up in the mountains of Utah surrounded by siblings, books, and one very old cat. She attended the University of Utah and the George Washington University where she studied biology and public health. She is not a witch, though she does own a lot of crystals and always knows what phase the moon is in. She currently lives in Washington DC.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing your review. I've been wanting to read this one. You've convinced me to put it on reserve at the library. Thanks.

Tonja Drecker said...

Aren't libraries wonderful? Happy reading...and a Merry Christmas if I don't talk to you before then!