Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
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 to one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safiya’s hot-headed impulsiveness.
Safiya 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.
— From the book jacket of Truthwitch
Safiya can tell deep within her bones whether someone is being truthful. Iseult can see the threads of everyone’s lives– their emotions, their bonds, the strings that tie their lives together. They make a pretty good team. At least one that’s good at stealing, fighting, and gambling. When the wrong carriage falls into the trap they’ve laid for a heist, they’re on the run from a host of guards, including one terrifying man with a rare witchery straight from the Void– a Bloodwitch who can track by the scent of blood.
To make matters worse, Safi’s uncle, a man of Cartorran nobility, has been summoned to Veñaza City for a Truce Summit by the emperor to discuss the end of the Twenty Year Truce and the Great War. Unbeknownst to Safi, her uncle has been putting a plan in place for years to bring about the end of the Truce– a plan that puts Safi directly at its center, forcing her to flee the city she’s called home and a life she doesn’t want.
While Safi is attending the Summit with her uncle, Iseult returns to her Nomatsi tribe north of the city. She quickly realizes that her tribe is now led by a priest who has little tolerance for those influenced by the outside world. As both girls are forced to escape the danger that chases them, they are taken aboard a Nubrevnan naval ship by the admiral, Prince Merik, who has a contract with Safi’s uncle to bring Safi safely to Nubrevna in exchange for desperately needed trade to feed his starving, war ravaged country.
Pursued by the emperor, the Bloodwitch, and Merik’s own sister who advocates piracy instead of diplomacy, Safi’s life is in danger, as well as Merik’s trade agreement, and the stability of an entire world on the brink of war. They will stop at nothing to get their hands on the only Truthwitch they’ve known in a century. But as powerful as a single Truthwitch can be, Safi and Iseult together as a team may be even more than what they appear to be.
While the concept of the book sold me (as well as the utter excitement and urging of my friend and coworker, Raychelle), I found this book a little hard to get into immediately. You’re dropped into this world with little warning and no background. You’re just plunked down in the middle of a scene that’s already off and running. It’s the lost feeling of reading the second novel of a series without knowing a thing about the first–except it is the first. There’s nothing to refer back to in order to figure out what you’ve missed. You’re on your own, trying desperately to keep up with the action, without a clue where you’re headed or where you’re even coming from, which can be dizzying at times. Even when you think you’ve teased out the details, you’re thrown into yet another missing backstory, and the whole process starts over again.
I’m normally very good at picking up on characters and following the story fairly quickly, but I had to scribble down notes about each character so I could keep them straight. (Something I hardly ever do…) Even the language of the book– the names, characters, and powers– tripped me up more than a few times. I work as a children’s bookseller and to judge whether a book is the right reading level for a child, I have them use the five-finger rule. As they read a paragraph or page, they hold up 1 finger for each word they come across that they don’t know. If they get to 5 fingers by the end of what they’re reading, the book is deemed too hard for their level. If I held myself to that standard for this book, I’d have to put it back and try an easier one. I felt like a six year old, just learning to read.
But once I teased out the major important facts and gave up on the idea of needing to know the rest, I started to enjoy the story. The pace is steady from the very beginning (with none of that info dump backstory to slow you down), and the action sequences read like a movie. If this hasn’t already been optioned for a film, it probably will soon. Safiya and Iseult are pretty kick ass heroines and Truthwitch is full of scenes that show off their badassery. Carriage heists, sword fights, a chase through city streets– and that’s just chapter one. Throw in a daring escape, an antagonist who will stop at nothing to track the girls down, a battle at sea, terrifying visions of unspeakable horror, some pretty cool magical witchery powers, and an oncoming war, and you’ve got yourself one big adventure story.
For a fraction of a second I thought the story was all about the friendship between Safiya and Iseult, with none of that messy romance stuff getting in the way. Hooray! A YA book that’s not about falling in love! Something different for once! Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. Spoiler alert– There’s instalove. Well.. Insta-I-think-I-hate-you-but-I-realize-later-that-it’s-actually-love. *sigh* Oh well. It still features a very strong “sisters before misters” friendship theme throughout, so I’ll take it.
Although I absolutely, without a doubt, would love to know the backstory of the characters, the world, the history, and the cultures (the Nomatsi in particular and why there’s such prejudice against them), the rich story building, despite the lack of history, and the characters drew me in and kept me going. It’s an incredibly lush and fascinating world that Susan Dennard has created. I thoroughly enjoyed the action and the story and will absolutely be back for Round 2. Windwitch is slated for a January 2017 release, and from the excerpt I found online, it looks like the action just keeps coming!
*Random side note: I realized a weird quirk while I was reading this book. I’m all about magic and powers. I think it’s awesome. I buy into all kinds of magic: telling truth from lies, seeing the threads that bind the world together, elemental magic, being able to sense someone from the smell of their blood. I have no problem with any of that! But the one magic that seems to grate against the edges of my imagination? Flying. I don’t know why! It makes perfect sense that someone with elemental magic could manipulate the air around them enough to propel themselves– but I just. can’t. do. it. Every time someone flew in the story, my mind just shut down. Fly on a broomstick, sure. Fly by yourself, Peter Pan style? Nope. But that’s just me being weird.
Learn more about Susan Dennard