Rating: One out of five stars
[Minor spoilers ahead. TW: sexism, victim blaming, self-harm.]
This book could have been so much more, but falls short due to its sexism, homophobia, casual racism, and a writing style that broke the suspension of disbelief. Trigger warnings are needed for this book for victim blaming and multiple instances of ritualistic cutting.
“The Witching Pen” follows the witch Elena after she has found a magical pen that makes whatever she writes come to fruition. Elena lives with her best friend Karl. They have known each other their entire lives and the sexual tension builds at a consistent pace. There is one other detail about Elena – she is also a virgin.
The concept of virginity is a dated way of controlling the bodily autonomy of women. In this book, it is used as a major plot device, as Elena suffers from special snowflake syndrome because she is a thirteenth generation witch, and has been told that if she has sex, she loses her powers while her lover gains her powers.
Wicca is a real religion, and this book gives a flippant wave to it by implying that “natural-born” witches are “real” witches, and not wiccans. This is purely for fictional reasons and shows nothing except Elena’s bias toward wiccans.
Elena is 25 years old, but she acts and sounds like a teenager. In the first chapter, Elena attends a wiccan-yoga type class, and when the instructor asks Elena to lead a session soon, Elena turns her back and writes a poem with the witching pen to make the leader’s skirt fall down. A scene later, Elena explains to Karl that there are magical rules she must abide by. This hypocrisy and immaturity negatively affected the reading experience.
Elena is a 25-year-old virgin, and the book makes this out to seem like a bad thing. The only type of sex mentioned is heterosexual, meaning the concept of sexuality was never explored as an option in the world of the book. The only mention of anything other than heterosexuality is homophobic, as demonstrated in a scene with Elena and Karl – Elena asks the honest question if Karl is gay, and Karl becomes angry and offended. The phrase “blubber like a pansy” is used.
With virginity as a theme throughout the book, the purity culture emerges as a deep construct. Words like “wanton harlot” and “man-slut” dot the dialogue throughout. The misogyny continues with the plot development of two guys fighting over Elena. When Karl speaks to Elena about not having sex, he states that she will never be truly happy, and will never be able to have a family, as if having a family is the epitome of future happiness.
The dialogue and writing style distracts from the story, with the lack of dialogue tags (making it easy to lose track of who is speaking) and awkward wording. Such sentences occur, such as “She looked at him – looked right into his eyes with her own hazel ones” (how else does one look at someone?), and phrases that interrupt the sentence such as “a man flew – yes, flew –” and “The four of them, too tired to travel by any other means, and looking like the cast from a B-horror movie set, walked eastwards…”
Contemporary, and dated, references destroy the suspension of disbelief. With references including The Godfather, Freddy Krueger, Jerry Springer, Buffy, Jack Daniels, Alan Sugar, Roger Daltrey, and even the use of the phrase “Hulked out,” the book uses references that do not add to the story.
Casual racism occurs in this book as well, with the sentences, “Amy let her eyes roam across his shirtless chest and…holy crap – he was wearing nothing but a loin cloth! Mocha coloured skin wrapped around a warrior’s body glistened in the dark.” Punctuation errors, two verbs in one sentence, and casual racism appear in two sentences. A writer should avoid describing skin color with words that have their roots in the trade industry of centuries past. Using words like “mocha” to describe skin color is an example of casual racism.
And then there’s Karl. The handsome man of twenty-seven years, the mysterious heritage, the entitled victim-blamer. Karl’s mother gets a few paragraphs of exposition leading to her death caused by her abusive husband, Karl’s father. The book describes this scene as follows: “Naturally, Karl had grieved, but with an eerie maturity beyond his years, he had also accepted that there was nothing more he could have done when all the help that was offered her, she’d refused.” This quote implies that Karl’s mom is at fault for her own death because she didn’t get out of the abusive relationship sooner, or heed her son’s advice. In this manner, victim blaming is seen as a mark of maturity. This is a dangerous mindset for anyone to be in – reader, writer, or character.
Karl’s entitlement toward Elena’s body is evident in almost every conversation the pair have. A direct quote from Karl: “I was in love with you when I was fourteen – your neck owes me a hickey.” Another quote from Karl, as Elena is initiating relations: “I will not be held responsible for my actions based on any decision you’re about to make.” And I’ll let the following sentence speak for itself:
“Of course, Elena’s safety came first, but where she was concerned, he was also a man harbouring unrequited love and unfulfilled needs…for too many years.”
The manuscript could have used some editing for grammatical and spelling errors, for phrases such as “I’ve spend,” and “is” instead of “in.” The witching pen itself is an important factor in only the first half of the book, with barely a thought to the latter half. The backstory of the pen is also unclear. There is a plot twist, which took me by surprise.
This quick read had much potential, but suffers a lack of editing and understanding of how harmful social constructs can be.
Review can also be found on Goodreads.
Picture from Goodreads.