Series: The Witchlands #1
Published by Tor Teen on January 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
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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’ve been looking forward to reading Truthwitch for a long while now. It was impossible to avoid the hype leading up to the books release, and from all that I saw I knew it sounded like my kind of book. Yet, for some unknown and possibly fateful reason, I did not order the book on release. Was some divine force intervening, giving me time for the hype to die down, before picking it up? I think so, because my overwhelming feeling upon finishing this is one of disappointment.
Truthwitch is not a bad book. It’s fun and it’s fast and future installments have a huge amount of potential. But it’s also incredibly shallow, and high fantasy can’t afford to be shallow in my opinion.
So, let’s get into it.
First and foremost, there is no plot. And guys, plot is kind of important?
To summarise, Safi and Iseult are Threadsisters that just want to live life together having fun. Only Safi is actually Safiya Von Hasstrel, a Domna of the Empire and a Truthwitch. Multiple people want her for their own shady reasons, and so a series of events send Safi and Iseult fleeing towards what they hope will be a safe harbour.
And that’s it. This book comprises of Safi and Iseult fleeing together, Safi and Iseult fleeing apart, and then Safi and Iseult fleeing together again. That’s it. It’s one long chase. For the first quarter of the book I felt like the pace and the drama of the novel was a strength. A new series needs to catch your attention, and it definitely did that. But then it never slowed down to let the world and the characters breathe, to let me grow attached to any person or any place. On the characters would move and what, I suspect, was meant to be breathless exhilaration, became huffed irritation. It also doesn’t help that I never understood why anything was happening. Okay, I get that Safi is fleeing a fate she doesn’t want and that Iseult is with her because they are Threadsisters. I get why Merik, Prince of Nubrevna and Admiral on the ship named Jana, is doing what he is doing. But WHY is Safi so important that she is hunted? What about her power has so many different factions chasing her down? I’m sure there is a reason that will be revealed in future books, but that doesn’t change the fact that for the entirety of Truthwitch I was thinking okay…but WHY.
This brings me to my second point, and the one that is most frustrating to me. The world of the Witchlands seems vast and diverse, and I’m hopeful that its potential will be realized in the next book in the series, but there is no promise of that. So I’m left with the niggling fear that the world building here is paper thin at best. It all sounds cool, with the Wells and the Witchery, and the diversity of lands and peoples. But…what are the Wells? Where did they come from? Why did they die? How do people become Witches? What are the rules of Witchery? There are iron witches, and poison witches, and silk witches…are there any restrictions? Or can you literally have ANY power? Could I be a Tea Witch, because I drink so much of it? And what about the political set up. Why are people able to end the Truce early? Why do people want to end the Truce? What happened in the Great War? Why are Iseult’s people so hated by everyone?
I have all of these questions and exactly zero answers to any of them. I understand hanging on to a few answers, for big reveals further along, but all of them? I WANT to love this world, because it feels like it could be awesome, but the pace never stopped to give me a moment to get to know it. Why couldn’t Evrane have taken a chapter or two aboard the Jana to give Safi and Iseult a history lesson? To give the plot some sense of direction and the world some sense of life? Gah. Evrane does have one moment towards the end where she hints at something bigger but it’s so vague and heavy handed that I rolled my eyes. The same plot point was also hinted at with equal bluntness earlier on, so it wasn’t a twist or a surprise. It was simply one of those trope moments where the old mentor says ‘I know lots of information about you and your incredibly important role in the world, and I don’t know if I shall see you again BUT I’M NOT GONNA TELL YOU ABOUT IT SO NER NER.’ It’s frustrating, because I expected so much more. I would have applauded if that trope had been avoided and Evrane had simply TOLD them. At least then this book might have felt like a novel with a point, rather than a check list of locations.
The characters were more of a mixed bag, which is a shame because I can handle a plot less book if the characters are strong. A number of them suffer from the same pacing issue that the plot and the world building suffer from, a thinness that simply won’t let me care about them. I’m talking about characters such as Kullen, Ryber, Evrane and Leopold. They have varying amounts of focus, and enough backstory to make you sure that they are important, but that’s about it. That said, there were other characters who only briefly touched the narrative but made a much bigger impression. I want to know more about Habim and Mathew (are they together? If so, this was our sliver of LGBT+ rep…but it certainly wasn’t explicit). I want Safi to discover the obviously tragic backstory that her uncle has clearly taken on as his own burden. I want to see Gretchya and Alma again.
The main characters were a mixed bag too. Safi didn’t bother me, though she also didn’t really generate huge feelings on my part. She’s the loud mouthed, brazen noble that flings herself into trouble and talks her way out of it. I appreciated her relationship with Iseult, but due to the mechanical nature of the pacing I never really FELT that relationship. I was consistently told of their importance to one another, but I’m still waiting for that moment that makes me believe it. This is a huge disappointment as one of the main selling points for me was the focus this book would give to female friendship. They did have a focus, but…eh.
Iseult herself was definitely the star. She felt unique and interesting. Her power as a Threadwitch was as vague as all the rest, and honestly sounded so exhausting, but I enjoyed her various conflicts and her quiet and observant nature. I’m intrigued by what will surely be her ship, and appreciated the small smattering of time that ship was given. I want to learn more about her history AND more about her future, and how she will play into the larger plot of the Puppeteer. Where Safi is very much the Celeana Sardothien of this book, Iseult felt like her own character. She can be smart mouthed, and she’s an awesome fighter, but she’s also thoughtful and complex. I loved Iseult, you guys. This is such a grumpy review so let’s all bask in this moment of gooey joy, because I loved her.
Aeduan was…okay. He’s a badass Carawen monk, and he’s also a Bloodwitch of the Void. None of those things are ever really explained within this book, but he definitely has some cool moments. He started to become much more interesting towards the end. I personally felt like the majority of his POV chapters were a waste of time, and could have been used for some actual world building instead. Still, his POV in the next book should be interesting and he has some genuine complexity to him that will be fun to explore.
Talking of a waste of time brings me back to our Prince. Ah, Merik. Or should I say ugh Merik. Honestly, I don’t think the author could settle on what she wanted Merik to be, and so he ends up being this mess of contradictions. His thoughts and his actions jumped around so much I had whiplash. One second he’s meant to be the grumpy brooder, the next he’s an A grade charmer. A scene appears and I think we are supposed to coo over his sensitivity, then he’s acting like an A grade douche. One moment I believe we are supposed to be in awe of his princeliness, the next he is stomping around his ship like a child. I also found it interesting/perplexing that the author chose to make his most defined characteristic his temper? Don’t worry, I’m not going to join the hordes of people that tend to throw the word ‘abusive’ around these days for no reason at all (please stop and think before doing that guys). BUT he IS the main love interest in a YA novel, and he is constantly fighting down his rage. And there ARE times when he is quite rough with Safi. Yes, in those moments he has some sort of justification but…it wasn’t really enough for me. It just seemed like that part of his character was completely needless, so why put it in there? it was a really odd choice that had my brow furrowing continuously. I just didn’t get him. I don’t hate him, but I also don’t care.
Which brings me to my final point of irritation, and yes…it’s the ship. And guys, I was EXCITED when they first met. It was a meeting that very much looked me in the eye and said ‘these two are going to smooch at some point’ but it said it with a very subtle wink. It was enough to set off my ship alarm, but not too much to send me running to my gag bag. I thought to myself ‘excellent, I have discovered a fine vessel and it shall grow organically from here.’ I was super duper wrong. Their very next scene together involved some unseemly (UNSEEMLY, I SAY) dancing in front of a ballroom full of people including the Emperor. And when I say dancing, it was basically sex without the genital contact. It was ridiculous. But this was still very early on in the book, so I told myself it was just a blip. Everything would be okay. And then…it all fell to pieces.
I think that the author was trying to go for a hate-to-love romance, but it didn’t work because A) why do they hate each other? B) why do they love each other? Their romance consisted of them randomly arguing for no real reason I could decipher, and then suddenly getting on for no real reason I could decipher. Throw in a dash of contrived moments to have them on top of one another, losing control of Witchery because of the strength of their feelz, and some heavy handed foreshadowing of the depth of their love….annnnnnd you have me harumphing quietly to myself in my PJs.
It sounds like I hated it, doesn’t it? But I’m giving it three stars for a reason, and I do have hope that the next book will build on this platform and improve. Because there are things to celebrate! The author HAS created a vast world full of diverse people. There are also a ton of awesome ladies running around, with different backgrounds and skill sets. While the plot of this book was barely a plot at all, the set up for the next book is all kinds of exciting. I’m sure we’ll start getting some answers about the Wells and the state between the different lands. We’ll also get to meet the Puppeteer and the Raider King, I think. And they, with the very cool and very grim process of cleaving, seem like they could be an absolute blast to be around. And let’s not forget that Iseult is awesome and the best. I love Iseult. I also kind of would like Iseult to drop kick Merik off the face of the planet (why couldn’t Iseult and Safi have been each other’s love interest? Hm? HMMM?).
Truthwitch was definitely disappointing because I was expecting something epic and full of substance. If you fancy a light and fast paced read with some fun characters, then you’ll probably read this and look at me with scorn for being such a grumpy guts. If you’re like me, and willing to accept a lesser first book in the hope that a series’ true potential is unleashed in the second, then give it a read and we can cross our fingers together when you finish. If, however, you’re looking for high fantasy with depth and with emotion…this might not be one for you.