Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Digital Audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Published by Tor Teen on January 3, 2017
Series: The Witchlands #1
Genres: Fantasy, Magic, Young Adult
Length: 430 pages or 14 hours, 41 minutes
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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.
The Witchlands series has a pretty devoted following, and as such, I’ve been curious about it. It’s not hyped in the way that Strange the Dreamer or Six of Crows is hyped, but the people who love this series are fiercely devoted. I’ve had this one on my TBR for a while, but I’ve heard negative things about the audiobook version, so I was a little nervous when I borrowed this one from Libby.
So, on one hand, I will say that Cassandra Campbell’s narration isn’t my favorite. BUT. It’s not the worst I’ve ever read? I sped up the audiobook to 1.25x (I know lots of people listen on 2x and 3x speed… I can’t do that and still absorb the story) and speeding it up a little solved most of the problems I had with the narration. I don’t think it was quite as bad as I was expecting! So that certainly helped.
Moving past format and presentation, I can see why people love this series. The beginning is a little rocky – the early indications of magic are a little confusing and feel a little contradictory. The longer I read, it became more evident that in the Witchlands, magic is like having a brown hair or blue eyes – it’s just part of these characters. The same sorts of magic have different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, a Truthwitch can be tricked with enough conviction or maneuvering – the same way a skilled liar can fool a polygraph. It’s a more subtle use of magic in high fantasy, and it took some getting used to.
I want to take a second to talk about the racism in this book. This is a fantasy world with parallel bigotries as our own – blind hate toward the darker skinned Midenzi. Iseult deals with the effects of this every day, and doubly so because as a Threadwitch, she can see emotions written on peoples’ threads. On one hand, it’s good to see these patterns as an eye-opening experience for the reader to change the way we behave in our own world – on the other hand, it just makes me sad? Fantasy is my favorite genre because it can be anything. There doesn’t have to be racism at all? This is a pattern in a lot of books, so it’s not a unique incident with Truthwitch… just something I’ve been thinking about lately.
Otherwise, the worldbuilding and the setting are fantastic. Many fantasies are still western European-inspired – which is great! I love these fantasies! – but it’s also nice to see a novel that feels like it’s set somewhere else. Truthwitch spends a lot of time at sea, and to me, it feels a bit Mediterranean. As I mentioned above, I really liked the magic system once I got my head around it. On top of the broad feeling, there were great choices in smaller, local settings. There’s a lighthouse – I don’t think I’ve seen a lighthouse in fantasy like this before? Additionally, there’s a monster battle at sea, and a showdown in a ghost town. It was fantastically done. Why don’t more authors incorporate ghost towns?
As far as the balance in writing goes, it was alright. I think the pacing was relatively good – there was a bit of drag in the middle, but it picked up well, and didn’t represent the entire book. I thought there was a bit of imbalance in the dialogue and internal monologues vs. outward action. The action scenes were written particularly well, keeping things moving quickly and realistically. There were a few instances where Safi and Iseault tried to fight and just… failed. Either they complete missed when they threw knives, or only served to exasperate the situation. I loved it? It was nice to see characters with a lot of heart and no skill. It felt more real.
In regards to characters – this is really hit-or-miss for me. I really liked Safi and I loved her and Iseult together, but I didn’t like Iseult as much on her own. I felt like there was a lot of story behind Iseult that we just weren’t getting or went off the edge of the book, and without it, she was just meh. There were four different POVs in this book. On one hand, knowing this is a series, I understand why each person is present… but it felt like a lot of drabble at times. Safi and Iseult would have been enough, I think. But perhaps all this comes better together when I read the rest of the series?
The first threads of romance were super cheesy as well. But that’s me – I’m not one for a sappy romance ever.
Where the characters and relationships shined? The friendship and family relationship were complicated and interesting. As I mentioned above, I absolutely loved the banter and rapport between Safi and Iseult. When Iseult went back to her family’s home, the relationship between herself and her her mother’s apprentice, Alma, was fantastic. I’d like to see more of them together, though I doubt it will happen. Susan Dennard did a wonderful job in the subtleties of relationships in Truthwitch… even if the romantic relationship felt a little forced. That said, though? Romance made up only a sliver of Truthwitch, and I expect that will be better fleshed out in following books.
All together, I liked this book. The setting was astounding and it was an easy novel to fall into. Despite my fears, the narrator didn’t put me off. I’ll definitely be continuing the Witchlands series. I think fans of Tamora Pierce’s would enjoy these books, as well as anyone who enjoys magic-based YA fantasy and stories driven by female friendships.
If you had a magical gift, what one would you like? I really liked Merik’s Windwitchery – I’ve always liked elemental magic! Let me know what you’d pick in the comments!