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LGBTQ Witches, what more could you want?!: ‘These Witches Don’t Burn’ Book Review

“I never want this moment to end”

I read this book during #DEBUTDECEMBER but never got around to posting a review. Better late than never, right?!

This is the perfect witchy love story. An ADORABLE love story wrapped up in a tense, sometimes down right terrifying, and heart-wrenching tale of a coven of witches determined to protect their own. I sobbed twice, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

:::THERE ARE TRIGGER WARNINGS THAT CANNOT BE LISTED WITHOUT SPOILING THE PLOT SO PLEASE BE AWARE OF THIS GOING INTO THE STORY! :::

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Author: Isabel Sterling
Publisher: Razorbill
Format/Source: Audiobook

From GoodReads: Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly By Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Isabel Sterling’s delightful, suspenseful debut is equal parts sweet romance and thrilling mystery. With everything she loves on the line, Hannah must confront this murderous villain before her coven–and any chance she has with the new girl–is destroyed. 

Plot: ★★★★★
World: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Character Development: ★★★★

the writing:★★★★★

Isabel Sterling’s writing is fantastic! It’s fluid, precise and engaging. Her use of every aspect of our senses really helped pull me into the story. As someone with aphantasia, these types of descriptions really pull me into the story!

There were so many different kinds of relationships and identities in this book and I was solidly invested in Hannah’s romantic endeavors. The way Sterling weaves the relationships makes them grounded and believable. We have all (probably) had that one ex that just wouldn’t let go – no matter what we did or didn’t do.

the plot: ★★★★★

Hannah is an Elemental in the summer after her junior year of high school. She’s excited to be graduating to full witch, until an event causes her and her ex girlfriend (who is also an Elemental) to use magic in front of “regs” – aka the muggles of the real world. Add to it – there is a new girl in town after Hannah’s heart, and we have a recipe for a disastrous investigation, heart pounding trauma and devastating turn of events.  

The central focus for These Witches Don’t Burn is the relationship dynamics between Hannah, her ex, and the new girl in town.  There is this terrifying witch hunt plot as the witches realize that a Witch Hunter is in town. Ya’ll – it get’s intense, and while it shattered me, I AM ABOUT IT!

There are A TON – yes A TON – of twists and turns in this novel. Like I had whip lash at one point trying to keep up with everything going on, whilst sobbing and screaming. They all worked, even if I was really annoyed with who the bad guy was, I really wanted to love the character and blah, my heart was crushed! I figured it out early on (It did NOT impact the way I felt about the events that happened at all – it actually made it much, MUCH more impactful – knowing someone could do that to the people they cared for.

characters: ★★★★

Our MC –Hannah – is both awesome and completely annoying at the same time. She definitely makes decisions as a teenager, impulsively and rashly, despite the warnings from her elders and her friends. I loved how in depth we got with Hannah’s thoughts about her break up, the new crush and all of the secrets she had to keep from the people she loves – like her bestie Gemma.

Speaking of Gemma, this girl is BESTIE GOALS! I can’t even lie. She’s a steadfast friend, willing and ready to do anything and everything for her friend. She discovers that Hannah is a witch, and the way she continues to protect her, to fight for her is utterly beautiful. One of the things I really loved regarding Gemma and Hannah is the realistic nature of their friendship. Gemma’s parents – particularly – are a sore spot for the girls, due to Hannah’s sexuality. Despite the tight knit friendship the girls have, this is a steady rift in their friendship and I loved that Sterling included it. It’s a real aspect of any queer person’s life, and it’s often glossed over in many ways. This was grounded, honest and made you FEEL. I LOVED IT.

And then, on the opposite side of the spectrum is Veronica. The ‘hot ex’ as she’s labeled on the cover. LOL! This is actually one of the best triangles I’ve encountered in a book because there is a purpose – not just to create a dramatic story line. We get glimpses of the real Veronica through out the novel, and it’s easy to see – in those moments – why Hannah fell for her.

“I’m standing here, telling you how much you hurt me, and you can’t hear it.”

I also found Veronica’s attempts to get Hannah back both humiliating for Veronica and honest to someone who desperately wants their ex back. Veronica really does not understand why Hannah is so against them being together, even when Hannah tells her in very clear terms. This broke my heart for Hannah and made me hate Veronica just a little. Most of us understand how it feels to not be heard by the person we need to heard by the most. I am over the moon with how Hannah handled her, and stood her ground, though I will admit initially I wanted them to reconcile. YOU GO, HANNAH!

The last character I’m going to touch on is Morgan, the new girl in town. She was seriously the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I loved how polar opposite she was of Veronica, and I could easily see her and Hannah together. The more Morgan opened up, the more I loved her. I will admit I did not see the twist coming, but it made it even more perfect!

We stay like that for a long time.
Until, finally, something inside starts to stitch itself back together.

….final thoughts…

I really loved how diverse this novel was. There was so much queerness that my queer heart grew three sizes that day! From the MC, to side characters that are TRANS, F/F EXPECTING CHILD, and BI reps. The language is trans inclusive as well, making it feel like coming home. There is so much awesomeness wrapped up in this story!

All in all, this is an awesome novel. I was thoroughly engaged and I NEEDED to know what was going to happen. It does end in a huge cliffhanger, so I’m antsy AF for the next book!

tl;dr

THese Witches don’t Burn is a phenomenal debut novel! Isabel Sterling has given us a brilliant story revolving around a witch determined to get over her break from her ex and fall for the new girl in town, all while protecting her coven from a danger that most don’t believe exists. With an astoundingly inclusive cast of characters, Sterling has delivered a relatable, touching, and down right TERRIFYING tale of betrayal, love, and finding who you are amid the noise of everyone around you. The Book Dragon rated this 5/5 stars!

About the Author:

Isabel Sterling is an LGBTQ advocate and educator by day and a YA author by night. When she’s not writing about magic and murder, Isabel can be found lost in a good book, marathoning her favorite shows, or relaxing by the lake. She lives in central NY with her wife and their brood of furry children: cats Oliver and December and a beagle-mix named Lily.

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