11 must-read SFF book releases that will kick your July into high gear

The Damned by Renee Ahdieh. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House
The Damned by Renee Ahdieh. Image Courtesy Penguin Random House /
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The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching, the debut fantasy novel from author Alexis Henderson, belongs in your TBR pile for its rich, detailed worldbuilding and deeply creepy vibe. A dystopian tale of a young woman living in a puritanical society that fears the influence of dark witches in the forbidden dark woods nearby.

Though she tries to follow scripture and live a pure life, Immanuelle is still somewhat notorious in the town of Bethel, thanks to her mother whose relationship with her outsider father was a scandal even before she disappeared into the local evil forest and came back pregnant. But when she finds herself lost in those same woods, a series of dark events occur that begin to tempt her down a similar path. But does that mean it’s necessarily the wrong one? Or has her Prophet been hiding something all along?

The official synopsis offers more details on the story.

"In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement. But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood. Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her."

The Year of the Witching is available on July 21.