Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
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The first in the Witchlands series, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard is a brilliantly imagined coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas and Trudi Canavan.
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.
“I will kill you,” he went on.
“No.” The girl’s eyes thinned; she pushed herself further upright and the moon streamed over her. “I d-d-d…” She coughed. Then wiped her mouth. “I don’t think you will.”
Ah, this book. I went back and forth on the rating and I do want to say this: unlike the other highly anticipated January novel – Passenger – Truthwitch is a fast-paced, enjoyable adventure. However, I know picky fantasy readers will see right through this book.
If you are looking for a light fantasy read with descriptions of dresses, balls, dancing, and an inevitable romance, look no further. Sometimes that’s all I want too. There’s no denying that this book has a base, addictive pull from the opening holdup-gone-wrong to every dramatic twist, turn and action scene after. But if you’re looking for something stronger, more fleshed-out and complex, I think Truthwitch could cause you some eye rolls.
I’ll break it down.
Characters. There are two central female characters – Safi and Iseult – and only the latter is particularly interesting. Safi suffers from a “specialness” because she is a truthwitch. Though whether the other characters know this or not does not affect their tendency to faint, fall over themselves or otherwise become obsessed with her whenever she enters the room.
And, quite frankly, for the most part she seems to act stupidly, putting herself and Iseult in danger because of her reckless and dumb plans. Like that time she runs away from the people helping her because… who the hell knows? Literally her only real talents seem to be making poor decisions and attracting the attention of various princes.
Iseult, however, is a badass. I liked it when the novel’s focus moved to her. I thought she was more interesting, less trope-y than the “special” Safi. I will also note that I like the emphasis put on female friendship before everything else; I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get a Safi/Iseult LGBT romance, but I’ll settle for the next best thing.
The only other interesting character is the villain – a blood monk called Aeduan. He is probably the greatest reason I am looking forward to the sequel, because fascinating, multilayered (maybe not quite so evil?) villains are one of my favourite things. I hope we get lots of him in the next book.
World-building. This should be a short section because there is none. I’ve heard early critics praising the unique world, but I am confused. There are some vague mentions of emperors and place names, but very little information is given about these people, their history, culture, politics or anything else. The only thing we know is that a 20-year peace treaty is soon coming to an end.
Also, these witches all live in a world made up of various lands and the collective name of these lands is… “Witchlands”. Now, I don’t want to get all nitpicky over little language/name things, but come on, “witches from the Witchlands”. Fantastic, that’s given me a great idea for a book! It’s about vampires who live in “Vampireville”.
“Something had happened between Safi and Merik during their dance. Something as powerful as the wind and the music that had gusted around them. A shift in the air that preceded a storm.”
Oh, hell, make it stop. Possibly the most eye roll-worthy thing of this book is the budding romance between Safi and Merik. They dance at a ball and it’s obsession at first twirl.
I believe you can experience lust from dancing with a hot guy or girl, I even believe a crush can form from dancing with a hot guy or girl, but forgive me if I raise a skeptical eyebrow at “something as powerful as the wind”. LOL, get over yourselves already. Also, Merik has no personality beyond his concerns for the wonderful Safi.
Just to conclude… It seems like a lot of negative, but I honestly did enjoy the fast pacing and surprises. I, for one, will be reading the sequel. Though I advise you to maybe think twice about this if you like your fantasy with more substance than mindless entertainment.