Author: Susan Dennard
Release: January 5th 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, Witches, YA
#1 in the Witchlands quartet
Sequels: Windwitch (#2), Bloodwitch (#3), Untitled (#4)
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 two novels I was anticipating most this month have both been a complete flop for me, which is a huge disappointment. Granted, this one wasn't quite as awful as Passenger had been, but it was still more of a let-down than not.
And that, even though for the first few chapters, I thought this would definitely turn out awesome. We get to know this witch duo, consisting of Iseult and Safiya, who are kicking ass with their weapons and competent fighting, and are drawn into a conspiracy much larger than them by sheer bad luck. They have no chance but to soldier on, and it's after they board the ship to supposed safety that things take a sharp turn south.
You see, I liked Safiya at first, I really did. However, sooner than I would have liked, she turned out to be this pampered idiot, who always went after what she wanted with no regard for her safety or the risks involved, dragging everyone she knows down with her should she fall. She doesn't have a care in the world and seems to be just as frivolous and unconcerned as her uncle always tells her she is. After she had proven herself reckless and inconsiderate time and time again, I just couldn't like her anymore, sorry. On top of that, she is a special snowflake character with powers no one else possesses, which makes her extremely valuable, and yet — honestly, I never understood what exactly made her witchery so desirable, especially when it was revealed to not even work that well at times, with Safi unable to tell truth from lie, or all the limitations coming with this power. How would a human lie detector be of use to a whole country, trying to draw an advantaging in an upcoming war, when it's not even of much use to Safi alone? Especially since it can't even really help her protect herself, unlike Windwitchery or Firewitchery would and when literally everyone knows she is a Truthwitch after, like, two seconds flat even though she'd kept it a secret her entire life. Hell, even Iseult's Threadwitchery seemed more useful.
Iseult, on the other hand, was really interesting and I steadily continued to like her and like her even more throughout the novel. I feel like she has really overcome some of her self-consciousness towards the end of it, and I truly admire that. She had genuine struggles and obstacles to overcome, and she had to do it all on her own, because Safi sure was never there to help her with it or anything.
Similarly, I liked the semi-villain Aeduan a lot as well. His inner conflict of sparing Iseult because he owed her a life debt and his curiosity about her lack of scent, versus his need for his own validation of character and ruthlessness was ... really interesting, to say the least. As well as his uncertainty of where his allegiance ultimately lies. I have a good guess where the author intends to go with him, especially because Dennard goes to great lengths to make him redeemable, and I really, really like that path she's dragging him on. It makes him a very intriguing character.
Lastly, there's Prince Merik, and much like Safi, I liked him at first but then my like for him diminished more and more the further I got into the book. You see, my problem is that he seems really likable at first, like a snarky person desperate to save his kingdom without war, no matter what he has to go through in order to achieve that goal. And yet, he never develops any characteristics beyond that and after a while, he got so bland and boring that it only annoyed me.
Not to mention Safiya and Merik's romance! Ugh. They dance at a ball, for some reason unknown to me because prior to that, they had encountered only once and not made a very good impression on each other. After that passionate, hot dance it seems that they have instantly developed feelings for each other and while the book takes some time to have them really act on their feelings, it was still atrocious to watch all the things they and other characters have to say about it.
“When Merik met Safi's gaze, his eyes were sharp — the sharpest she'd ever seen them — and she had the uncomfortable sense that he saw her. Not just the surface of her, but all her secrets too. (...)
Safi eased out a long breath, her mind careening back to Merik. The prince. The admiral. He was never far from her thoughts, and she'd barely thought of anything else for all those hours in the irons. She'd barely looked at anything but his rain-slicked hair and hard gaze while he steered the Jana toward his home. (...)
“Promise me you'll consider a tumble in the sheets while you're away. You're so tense” — [Merik's best friend] gulped in air — "I can't even look at you without my lungs wanting to seize.” (...) “And with whom should I tumble exactly? I don't see any women clambering for the position.”
Sigh. You're seriously telling me his best friend told Merik to bang Safiya? For stress relief? Ooookaay.
The world-building. Man, I really wanted to like this aspect, but it was never really elaborated. There is a map at the beginning of the book, cool beans, and then there are names of empires dropped, cities are mentioned, but it all remained a vague, distant concept to me, because we never really get to know anything crucial about any of these countries. Nothing about their culture, customs or citizens. I never got an idea of how they work and what makes any country tick. It was unfortunate, because I see great potential here. Maybe in the next book, then.
Lastly, something that kept nagging at me were the way things had a tendency to never be explained well. I still have no clue why there is so much racism and disdain towards Iseult's Nomatsi heritage, like what is the history there? What gives? And what was the matter with the "Aetherwitched miniature ship" that Merik and his sister Vivia keep track of? Was it like ... a toy ship, linked to the real thing and showcasing its current position, or...? Why was that even a thing at all, since it didn't have any huge impact on the rest of the story? I am just so confused.
Ultimately, this book started out really well, and I'd hoped so much to end up liking it a lot, especially after Passenger was already such a failure for me. Yet, despite all my best intentions, I just couldn't bring myself to ignore all of its faults and flaws. I admit it has some pretty good things going for it, though, which make me curious about the sequel, so I think I'll probably read it. And I'm hoping it's going to be as good as I'd hoped this would be. It better be.