Truthwitch (Witchlands #1)

Susan Dennard is one of the most amazing writers I have had the ability to follow and interact with on Twitter. Her newsletter (which I need to subscribe to this year) provides publishing and writing advice to the community and her online persona is warm and helpful. She’s the kind of person who, when people fuck with her, I want to queue up to avenge her.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to begin reading her Witchlands series, but with the third full installment of the series releasing in February, I figured I would try them out.

Truthwitch is a book that is a masterclass in character development and investment. It took exactly one paragraph for me to ride or die for Safi and Iseult, the Threadsisters and witches that are troublemakers that can’t help but step in it, but when they do they are always there to support each other and get out of whatever trouble they are in together.

It would have been so easy for Dennard to have given me long chapters about how this universe works – the myriad of witch types and the powers they wield are vast and far-reaching – as well as the politics of the different regions – they are reaching an end to a 20 year worldwide truce that has several long-reaching consequences across all lands – BUT SHE DOESN’T. And its absence is almost as magical as her storytelling.

We are exposed to the aspects of the Witchlands universe as our characters interact with them. Witches can cleave, which is basically their magic being overused and turning them into elemental bombs, but we don’t get a long explanation about how that happens, we see Safi and Iseult (and Merik, the prince from the water region) encountering a cleaved Tidewitch right at the start. We’re immediately exposed to this danger, we learn how it is typically dealt with, and we get a foreshadowing about Iseult in the process.

I think this is YA(?) but it has one of the major strengths that I love in a well written YA, which is that you forget how old the characters are. It’s part of what makes all of Leigh Bardugo’s work so genius – the kids are all 16 and 17 but you forget and the story is so epic that you read it as though you’re reading about adults.

You never get kicked out of the action, the forward motion of the story, in order to learn things. Right from the first chapter you will care about the characters, and the claws which Dennard will have sunk into you will pull you through the story at a breakneck pace; you will be sad to ever have to put it down to eat, work, or sleep.

I have very few critiques for this one. I felt like a LOT was thrown into the first book, almost too much for me to keep track of and I had so many questions about the world that a little bit of exposition wouldn’t have hurt things too much. I am hopeful that the sequel, Windwitch, will stretch things out a bit to give depth to the breadth of Truthwitch.

The romantic moments between Safi and Merik will seem eerily familiar if you enjoyed the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas. The acknowledgements show that Dennard and Maas are very good friends, with Maas reading and commenting on the work in progress. Another echoing theme from Maas’ books here in Dennard’s Truthwitch is the “everything is my fault, I feel so much guilt because if I’d only never been born…” kind of stuff. It’s not there a lot, but when it was I rolled my eyes and just kept reading.  I’m fine with this as long as the future books don’t involve the word mate in reference to a partner or feasting in reference to oral pleasuring.

If you love fantasy, magic, mystical creatures, surprises, intrigue, and a little romance, then Truthwitch is a book you should pick up right away.

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