Author: Susan Dennard
Series: The Witchlands (#1)
Read: January 8th-16th
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: January 5th, 2016
In short: Truthwitch is definitely a very fun, fast-paced read; whether it lived up to its hype is debatable, but it was enjoyable enough for me to want to read the next one!
Goodreads: On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.
In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.
Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.
Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.
Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
You need to understand my relationship with Truthwitch: when I was drafting my own novel in 2014, I followed Susan Dennard’s incredibly helpful writing process and resources, in which she refers to and uses examples from Truthwitch quite often. So I’ve basically been psyched for this book for about a year. Definitely Truthwitch did not disappoint when it came to action, female friendship (and girl power in general), and interesting characters. But I wish the worldbuilding had been handled better; perhaps that would have boosted it to a solid 5-star instead of the shaky 4 it is in my mind now.
≫ THE PLOT:
…they wouldn’t care at all about breaking the Truce if it meant getting their hands on a Truthwitch.
Safiya fon Hasstrel is a minor Cartorran noblewoman, but spends most of her time training in the city of Veñaza with her Threadsister, Iseult. Both Safi and Iseult are unregistered witches in a land with various types of magic. But Safi has the rare and dangerous honour of being a Truthwitch: she can discern truth from lie, and that makes her a coveted good. When Safi’s abilities are revealed to the restless, power-hungry rulers of their unstable land, she and Iseult are forced to flee for their lives. But the story’s not just about Safi; Iseult is a Nomatsi Threadwitch who left her tribe years before, leaving behind a complicated tangle of relationships. Nomatsi are derided all through the Witchlands, and it takes all of Iseult’s Threadwitch training for her to maintain her placid exterior. Both girls would do anything for each other, and when they’re being pursued by a raging assassin, calculating kings and queens, and powerful witches, their loyalties and convictions will certainly be put to the test.
The plot in itself is very much the typical ‘journey’ plot, but with differences that are both positive and negative. Truthwitch‘s biggest plot pitfall is that while it opens with action, it somehow drags for nearly the entire first half. Case in point: I took seven days to get to 65% of my eBook, and read the remaining this afternoon, in one sitting. The good thing is, once the journey really gets kicking, the many, many gears pick up the pace majorly, and Iseult and Safi’s pursuers make their escape even more thrilling. The other plot problems are, to me, rooted in setting and character flaws.
≫ THE SETTING:
The Witchlands are definitely interesting, and there are a bunch of name-drops and hints that several of the cities/kingdoms reflect historical ones. That was fun! On the other hand, the name-dropping can get very, very tedious. I don’t know what this place is! I don’t understand! There’s also the fact that the names can feel very interchangeable, and I don’t think we get a tangible enough difference in culture. For instance, Prince Merik’s full name is Merik Nihar, and I was extremely excited by the prospect of a love interest of colour before I realised he’s white, but the names of his family (Vivia, Serafin, Evrane) and countrymen (Kullen, Yoris) seem a bit at-odds with that last name? This kind of naming inconsistency stood out to me even with Iseult’s family and tribe members (Gretchya, Alma, Corland ???) This could just be me nitpicking.
The entire plot is based off the fact that a big truce between several big powers is about to expire, but we know much too little about the original war, the powers and their alignments, and the general politics of the world. Right now, all I’m getting is that they don’t like each other, and they killed a lot of people—plus there’s a bit of typecasting of one side as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ which I can only hope will be addressed or subverted in the next books. From the name-drops and the hints I can surmise that Susan Dennard has stuff planned out in her head; for it not to be there on paper is infinitely frustrating. To me, that’s what makes Truthwitch less of a high fantasy novel and more of a fantasy lite type thing.
≫ THE PROTAGONISTS:
“I can be the right hand, and you can be the left.”
Say hello to female friendship and happiness! Safi and Iseult’s friendship is definitely one for the books. They’re willing to do absolutely anything for each other, and they always have each others’ back. In a genre where girls are almost constantly pitted against each other, they were a breath of fresh air. And they were actually well-written characters in their own right!
Here, Safi felt warm. Here, she felt welcome, and sometimes, she even felt wanted.
Safi comes with a load of baggage from living with her alcoholic uncle, and she’s as hotheaded as they come. She’s reckless, foul-mouthed (honestly, thanks for a teenager who actually cusses!), and infuriating. I’ve seen too many protagonists like Safi, so she grated on me for a good 75% of the novel. But like I said, she is well-written, and her turnaround was very refreshing too, if a little heavy-handed. Celaena Sardothien could learn a thing or two.
…Iseult had learned to keep her body cool when it ought to be hot. To keep her fingers still when they ought to be trembling. To ignore the emotions that drove everyone else.
I definitely enjoyed Iseult’s perspective too—possibly because her ‘specialness’ wasn’t as in-your-face as Safi’s, She’s definitely Safi’s cool, composed counterpart. I also liked the brief examination of racism that we got from her perspective too. Iseult has intense baggage too, like her feeling of inadequacy stemming from the fact that her witchery is far from powerful, unlike her fearsome Threadwitch mother. Iseult is markedly different from your run-of-the-mill heroine, and I appreciated that.
≫ THE OTHER CHARACTERS:
The standout members of the remaining cast are Aeduan, the Bloodwitch assassin tracking the girls, and Prince Merik. (Sidenote: I have a feeling both will be love interests in the future.) We get several perspectives in Truthwitch, and though IMO Safi and Iseult are the true protagonists, these two closely follow.
Aeduan is interesting chiefly for his very mysterious past, but I have to admit that his whole shrouded in mystery thing grew a little tedious. We know little about him in the context of the Truthwitch world, and even less of him as a person. He’s chiefly defined by his terrifying abilities, and his cold, assassin exterior. Well, I’m guessing that’ll be developed.
Merik is much more of an open book, but perhaps the lack of mystery made him a little simplistic. He’s that prince willing to do anything for his kingdom and his people, and he’s extremely caring beneath that hot-tempered surface. The nuances and complexities of Merik’s character and relationships come from the politics of Nubrevna, and his very complicated relationship with his sister Vivia.
Vivia’s a major player in the political scene, but she’s also very ambitious and bloodthirsty (think Giuletta from The Young Elites). What I also appreciated was that several of her decisions appear foolish, possibly so Merik looks better, but that also adds a dimension to her character. Considerably more developed is Evrane, the monk who is this book’s closest thing to Gandalf. (I’m kidding.) Evrane’s mysterious, traitorous past was not painted as ~oh so mysterious~ as Aeduan’s, and I’m definitely interested in learning about more there. The various rulers—Henrick, Serafin, and Vaness—were not explored very deeply, but I’m guessing that’ll change too as the politics are delved into. Hopefully.
≫ OF VILLAINS:
Truthwitch doesn’t really have villains, which was pretty much the nuance I’d have liked to have extended to its setting, especially re: the war. There are evil powers which are hinted at, and will come into play later on, but for the most part the characters all act with their own motivations and goals, which was great!
≫ THE ROMANCE:
“[…] You aren’t the last person I’d choose.”
“No.” […] “You’re the second to last. Maybe third.”
Safi and Merik’s budding romance has me in two minds. On the one hand, it was written very swoonily. I like that. On the other hand…it’s pretty clichéd. Girl hates boy, boy hates girl, boy and girl are forced to endure each other’s presence, girl and boy realise they have feelings for each other. And it did get a little instalove-y in parts. The good thing is, the romance isn’t central to the story, so any annoyances were only fleeting.
≫ THE ENDING:
The last fight scene had me this close to screeching. The writing shines during the action scenes, and most of all right at the end. And the actual ending had me very much intrigued, if a little annoyed that I’d have to wait aaaages (read: a year) for the next one to figure out what happens. But I guess that’s the goal.
≫ TO SUMMARISE:
Definitely check Truthwitch out if you enjoy YA fantasy; don’t expect hardcore high fantasy, but Truthwitch does come with its own brand of entertainment.