I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith, it’s 1911 in New York City. Frances has been working in a factory while dealing with the recent loss of her brother. But when her boss tries to assault her one night, she defends herself—by using magic to kill him, which she’d never known she was capable of. Before she can be arrested the next day, she is swept away to a supposed sanitarium called Haxahaven. However, Frances soon learns that this place is actually a school and a shelter for witches, and she realizes that this might be a home for her. Then, as she learns more about the world of magic, and grows closer to a boy called Finn, she finds herself in a game of danger and power—and she will have to make more tough choices in order to survive.
Overall, this was… okay. I think I liked the first half more than the second, though.
As a protagonist, Frances is fine, but not all that distinctive. She’s not boring, but I don’t know that she’s much different than most other teen leads in young adult novels. Finn is a decent love interest, mostly because of his backstory and the magic he possesses, but I didn’t feel that invested in their developing relationship. I did, however, like Lena and Maxine, and would have loved to have even more time with them. This book had a good amount of friendship between women, but I wanted more.
The friendships and relationships aside, I think the story was interesting. The idea of a secret magical society right beneath people’s noses has certainly been done before, but it’s still fun. This is a dark and gritty universe, overshadowed by the harsh realities of factory life and being beholden to big business owners. And Haxahaven is an intriguing but slightly ominous place, both keeping girls safe but also keeping them cloistered.
That said, I think some aspects of the story—particularly the backstories of some significant characters like Boss Olen, and the history of the Sons in general—could have been given more information and development. And the plot twist involving a certain antagonist didn’t, to me, feel earned. There didn’t seem to be enough leading up to it, and it fell flat. (Also, I thought this was going to be a standalone novel, but now that I’ve finished the book, I can’t see that there won’t be a sequel. Why are standalones so underrated?)
In the end, The Witch Haven is a decent, but not extraordinary story. The setting is excellent, and I liked several characters, even if the plot and some of the world-building could have been better. I’m not sure I personally will read the next book (which surely is going to exist), but anyone who likes magic, dark academic settings, and historical fantasy might want to give this a try.
Overall rating: 7.9/10
The Witch Haven will be published on August 31st, 2021!