The Witch and the Vampire
by Francesca Flores
Released on March 21st, 2023
Published by Wednesday Books
Young Adult Fiction—Fantasy, Retellings > Rapunzel, Romance
Francesca Flores’s The Witch and the Vampire is a queer Rapunzel retelling where a witch and a vampire who trust no one but themselves must journey together through a cursed forest with danger at every turn.
Ava and Kaye used to be best friends. Until one night two years ago, vampires broke through the magical barrier protecting their town, and in the ensuing attack, Kaye’s mother was killed, and Ava was turned into a vampire. Since then, Ava has been trapped in her house. Her mother Eugenia needs her: Ava still has her witch powers, and Eugenia must take them in order to hide that she’s a vampire as well. Desperate to escape her confinement and stop her mother’s plans to destroy the town, Ava must break out, flee to the forest, and seek help from the vampires who live there. When there is another attack, she sees her opportunity and escapes.
Kaye, now at the end of her training as a Flame witch, is ready to fulfill her duty of killing any vampires that threaten the town, including Ava. On the night that Ava escapes, Kaye follows her and convinces her to travel together into the forest, while secretly planning to turn her in. Ava agrees, hoping to rekindle their old friendship, and the romantic feelings she’d started to have for Kaye before that terrible night.
But with monstrous trees that devour humans whole, vampires who attack from above, and Ava’s stepfather tracking her, the woods are full of danger. As they travel deeper into the forest, Kaye questions everything she thought she knew. The two are each other’s greatest threat—and also their only hope, if they want to make it through the forest unscathed.
Trigger/Content Warning(s): Blood, Death of Parent(s), Animal Death, Physical Abuse, Torture, Child Abuse, Vomit, Child Death, Murder
Please note: antisemitic tropes were found by several readers, including myself, throughout the book. If you ultimately decide to read, tread carefully.
Disclaimer: I was provided a physical galley by the publisher in return for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion.
The Witch and the Vampire by Francesca Flores had so much potential and anticipated hype. Unfortunately, it did not deliver on any of it.
Upon starting the book, one thing became heavily apparent within the first few chapters. This book, whether intentional or not, relies on antisemitic tropes—specifically blood libel. This was made obvious in several scenes throughout the book, such as the following: Ava’s mother forcefully kills and turns her into a vampire; leeches Ava’s powers and uses them to appear mortal in society; vampires are widely hated by the rest of the world, ones who are caught are put through public executions (i.e. burning), all are seen as bloodthirsty monsters with no thoughts or feelings except to kill humans and witches and drink their blood; sacrificial rituals are attempted at the end; and more. It would be one thing to have a one-off thing, but to have several instances catering to this trope leads it into harmful territory.
That is not the sole problem, however. While reading, one can find it easy to assume that this book was a rough draft instead of a soon-to-be-published novel in need of minor edits. Minor edits would not do much in helping to fix the major storyline, plot and character development, writing, and pacing issues littered throughout the story.
To start with, the author’s writing had several points of repetition. On average, this is not a problem. But in this scenario, it was done in such a way that assumed the reader would not remember details, sometimes that were uttered only a line before being repeated. It made it aggravating to read at several points in the book, and it was easy to question whether there had been any direction from edits or beta reading before advance copies were printed.
To add to that: where some details had the unfortunate position of being repeated, others failed to be explained or fully written out. This led to the story becoming confusing and irritating.
The characters felt two-dimensional and appeared as though they were still in the early stages of being fleshed out. Their decisions were made suddenly and without much thought (more so than the average, this was an obvious lack). Their relationships came across as forced and instantaneous—pushed in when convenient to the plot or when it seemed like the author was “ready” for them to be there. There were often random shifts in personality that did not make sense for their character, especially with a lack of build-up.
As for the plot, with the mix-ups in the writing, one can determine in the book that there were several plotlines that felt thrown together. Part one, on its own, could have been a short story or novella. As one gets further into the story, more plotlines appear. None of them are completely developed as they should be and are, instead, added to the mix with no strong standings. And with the poor storytelling and painfully slow pacing displayed throughout, it made for a rough reading experience.
Overall, The Witch and the Vampire by Francesca Flores was a pretty bad reading experience. As stated, it can be easily assumed that this book was a rough, first draft instead of the nearly-published script it is supposed to be at this point in time. For that, I do not give it a starred rating. With everything that failed to be accomplished in this book, I do not think I will be picking up another book from Flores unless there is proof to be shown of better writing.
Before this book is released into the world, I want to voice my concern—with the base-level problems and antisemitic tropes, I implore the author and the team at Wednesday Books to push this book’s release date and spend more time on a rewrite and edits. I do not say this to be mean, I say this as someone whose hopes for this book were literally crumbled while reading.
Francesca Flores is a writer, traveler and linguist. Raised in Pittsburgh, she read every fantasy book she could get her hands on and started writing her own stories at a young age. She began writing Diamond City while working as a corporate travel manager. When she’s not writing or reading, Francesca enjoys traveling, dancing ballet and jazz, practicing trapeze and contortion, and visiting parks and trails around San Francisco, where she currently resides.