Series: The Witchlands #1
Published by Tor on January 5th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.
Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.
Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.
In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.
Truthwitch is a compelling, fast-paced introduction to the Witchlands series with an incredible friendship and the promise for more adventures to come.
“It wasn’t freedom she wanted. It was belief in something—a prize big enough to run for and to fight for and to keep on reaching toward no matter what.“
Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. Iseult is a Threadwitch, able to see emotions and bonds between people as colours. The duo, both skilled in combat and academically trained, couldn’t be more different in appearance, in social status, and in characterization. Safiya is a hot-headed, feisty and slightly reckless noblewoman, and the only person she puts before her own needs is Iseult, her Threadsister. Opposed to Safiya’s flaring temper is Iseult’s calm, level-headed personality and her low status as a Nomatsi (closest to a gypsy probably), which made it easier to get attached to Iseult than to Safiya. However, Safiya undergoes a tremendous development throughout the book, and she grew on me with every chapter, with every insight, with the increasing acts of selflessness. There is a very interesting twist to Iseult’s fate, which I hope to see explored in Windwitch.
Their paths cross with both Prince Merik Nihar, Admiral of Nobrevna, and with Aeduan, a Bloodwitch – his witchery enables Aeduan to track people by the scent of their blood and smell their witchery, which makes him an immediate threat to the exposure of Safiya’s secret Truthwitchery. At first, I thought Prince Merik was just going to be another handsome, uninteresting puppet for a love interest, but I was proven wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his character unfold – his almost compulsive need for orderliness, his loyalty to his crew and people, his solitude due to his rank, and of course, his flaring temper that matches Safiya’s stormy nature. Whenever those personalities rubbed against each other, the sparks flew.
Aeduan’s character had me equally intrigued. In the beginning, there is not much to him but a threatening perseverance on his ruthless hunt for Safiya. On several occasions, though, the reader gets glimpses of his true core – how his loyalties are torn and how he takes life-debts very, very seriously, even if owed to an enemy.
The book starts out with a bang: Safiya and Iseult have a panned ambush go wrong, alerting the Bloodwitch to Safiya’s identity. From there on, it is a constant game of hide and seek. After a crucial event in their hometown forces the Threadsisters to flee, they find themselves aboard Prince Merik’s vessel, outrunning the Bloodwitch and a steadily increasing number of armies on Safiya’s heels, all wishing to claim her rare witchery to themselves as the ultimate weapon in a century-old war between the empires.
In a nutshell, I’d say the book has an average pacing for a fantasy book – the pacing is pretty high in the beginning but then slackens a bit in the middle until it rises to a climax towards the ending. I never felt bored, though, thanks to the multiple points of view and the constant tension between Merik and Safiya. What I did question was the believability: Why would being a Truthwitch make you the most sought after person in the kingdom? How was it that the most powerful witchery? Even more, since Safiya is apparently able to be deceibed, how much use is she really to any power-hungry monarchs?
THE SETTING AND WORLD-BUILDING
In my opinion, there are two kinds of fantasy authors: Those that clot the plot with heavy amounts of info-dumping, drowning you in information, and those that push you into an unknown world without the slightest explanation. Dennard belongs to the latter sort, at least where Truthwitch is concerned. In the beginning, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the names, the witcheries (which are connected to the elements), the kingdoms and empires, their past wars and current politics, and all kinds of foreign terms. A lot of the reader’s discoveries result from when the main characters make them themselves or ponder over a piece of history. I felt like I only received the bare necessities to not completely drown in the foreign world of the Witchlands, but I craved more information. Like, how are witcheries dispersed among the people? What differentiates the kingdoms? What is up with the Wells, the springs of magic? What happens with witches when they cleave? A lot of questions are left unanswered. With Truthwitch being the first book in a Fantasy series, I expected to be thoroughly introduced to the world, leaving more space in the sequels for character development, scheming and action.
There is one obvious ship in this book: Safiya and Prince Merik. I’ve seen some people condemn their romance as insta-love, to which I must disagree. There’s certainly an immediate attraction to be noticed between the two, a certain chemistry when two people meet their equals, but there is a lot of fighting (with actual swooords), bickering and mocking, before they’re finally able to admit their feelings. While I did enjoy their romance, what my heart really craves is a different ship, which has been foreshadowed and will hopefully manifest in the sequel.
“I’ll always follow you, Safi, and you’ll always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.”
A fierce, burning need rose in Safi’s lungs at those words. She wanted to tell Iseult everything she felt¬—her gratitude, her love, her terror, her faith, but she didn’t. Instead, she smiled grimly. “Threadsisters to the end.”
Truthwitch does not stand out among other YA fantasies, but if you’re looking for a book with memorable heroines, a strong female friendship, a swoon-worthy romance, a swoon-worthy maybe-to-develop romance (I just can’t let it go!), political intrigue and scheming, and battles and swordfights, then Truthwitch will satisfy those expectations. A well constructed, comprehensible world-building is not one of the book’s strong suits, but if you push through the first chapters of the book, you will eventually be able to orientate yourself well enough to enjoy this rollercoaster.