2016-06-30
Witches' Night Out
by Silver RavenWolf
Llewellyn, 240 pp.

"Witches' Night Out"--the first in a new teen-oriented Witches' Chillers series by Silver RavenWolf--should come with a warning: "Don't try this at home." As any responsible Witch would tell you, performing rituals when you're filled with rage and suspicious of the other members of the circle is not a good idea. As "Witches' Night Out" begins, Bethany Salem's beloved boyfriend, Joe, is dead, victim of a gruesome car accident, and Bethany believes he was murdered. She also thinks her best friends--all members of Bethany's Witches' Night Out club--have something to do with Joe's death. After a summer of allowing her bitterness to fester, she invites Nick, Karen, Tillie, and Nam over for a ritual to determine the killer's identity.

When Bethany invokes the "Hounds of the Wild Hunt" to find Joe's killer, she gets more than she bargained for. The ritual unleashes ominous forces (though Bethany refuses to believe the dogs that show up in her backyard are related to the ritual), and her neighbors in the conservative town of Cedar Crest get wind of her magical activities. Soon the girls of Witches' Night Out are suspended from school, two lose their jobs, and the cheerleaders at Cedar Crest High attack Bethany with cigarette lighters. Worst of all, Bethany's father's evil girlfriend, Angela, is trying to send Bethany away to boarding school.

Through all these developments, RavenWolf, a Wiccan priestess and author of the guide "Teen Witch," pays lip service to the positive aspects of the Craft and goddess worship. Bethany's new housekeeper turns out to be a Witch whose spells help remedy Bethany's bad situations, and at one point Bethany, Tillie, and Nam--albeit in an unbelievable conversation--discuss the attributes of various goddesses and the nature of witchcraft: "That's the nice thing about Witchcraft. There are moral rules, but no one can tell you who or what to worship."

But overall, the book reinforces negative media stereotypes of Wiccan teens as self-dramatizing, violent, anti-social malcontents. Members of the Wiccan and pagan community have expressed dismay at RavenWolf's recent projects (like her forthcoming Teen Witch Kit), criticizing her for catering to the lowest common denominator of audiences interested in Wicca. "SR's decision to continue to link Horror and Wicca in such formatted novels is disturbing....And since the audience aimed at is definitely non-Wiccan, it sets us all up for abuse," wrote one Beliefnet member on a discussion board about the topic.

Indeed, "Witches' Night Out" reads like an extended adolescent revenge fantasy in which the Wiccan Rede--"An it harm none, do what you will"--plays no part.

To make matters worse, the book is shoddily written. Sloppy narration, poor sentence structure, and various small errors mar the story, making it hard to follow at times. One shockingly violent event follows another as Bethany and her friends explore the mystery of Joe's death until "Witches' Night Out" builds to its improbable climax. A pity, since for most of the way "Witches' Night Out" is a fun, even absorbing read. Given the ongoing popularity of young-adult occult and horror fiction, the book is likely to appeal to its intended teen audience, but the message of "Witches' Night Out" will probably not be appreciated by either traditionally religious parents or pagan parents.

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