Monday, May 31, 2021

Book Review: These Witches Don't Burn by Isabel Sterling

As an Elemental Witch who can control fire, earth, water, and fire, Hannah's learned to keep a pretty low profile. Humans, or Regs, like her best friend Gemma can't discover her secret abilities or else there will be consequences. With the end of the current school year on the horizon, it seems like the most she'll have to confront is a messy break-up with her ex-girlfriend. 

But when a terrifying blood ritual disrupts a bonfire celebration, her powers will be tested to protect her coven. As the attacks on Salem's witches grow deadlier, she'll have to do the unthinkable and team up with her ex to get to the truth of the supernatural crisis taking over their own.

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I was looking for a queer-fabulous fantasy book to read for the summer, and I don't think I could've found a better option. I thought the story would at most be a fun witchy read, but I increasingly fell in love with the diverse amount of characters and world-building.

Sterling does a marvelous job creating characters from all kinds of backgrounds, who you can relate to instantly. Hannah, in particular, is a well-rounded heroine who does her best to help everyone she can, sometimes at the expense of her own safety - which creates a lot of fun conflict against the witch hunters. I loved how intimate her crush with Morgan is as well as the complexity of moving on from her ex Veronica. Nobody feels like they were put into the story for checking a box off for LGBTQ+ representation.

The world-building also weaves together a lot of details to offer a little bit of everything - fantasy, mystery, and romance all wrapped up in a contemporary Salem witch hunt. Sometimes the mix of genres inhibited the story because Hannah's relationships outside of the main conflict slowed the pacing down. But Sterling makes up for it with her sharp narrative and descriptions. She truly uses all of the senses to put you in the moment of what Hannah is experiencing whether it's something that will made me swoon or compelled me to find out what happens next. The first half of the book is rather slow, but it truly picks up in the second half where all of the action takes place - subsequently, the violence isn't gratuitous but it might be a little too much for younger pre-teen readers.

What I'd love to see from the sequel This Coven Won't Break is more improvement with the dialogue and development of the villain(s). The former was sometimes pretty cringey and struggling to capture how teenagers talk (something I think is pretty common in a lot of YA books), meanwhile the latter didn't seem to be developed more than: witches = bad = I must do something about them. However, the Hunter does ultimately express that there are motives underneath the surface than just hunting witches because "they're an abomination to humans," so I'm interested to see how much further this goes and expands in the next book. Otherwise, this was a quick and compelling read, and I look forward to seeing how it finishes it up.

If you're looking for a breezy witchy read, look no further than These Witches Don't Burn. Sterling's first book of a duology offers a splendid mix of romance, fantasy, and intrigue that will satisfy readers looking for LGBTQ+ representation and a contemporary setting with magic.

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