YA Weekend: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

TruthwitchTruthwitch by Susan Dennard

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Witchlands

Publisher: Tor Teen (1/5/16)

Length: 416 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I typically try to approach ultra-hyped books with caution especially when it comes to the Young Adult fantasy genre, but I admit, when it came to Truthwitch by Susan Dennard I caved like an old sinkhole. This is the first time I’ve read the author so I had no idea what to expect, but her fans have so many lovely things to say about her Something Strange and Deadly series and Truthwitch also had such a wonderful description filled with all these promising elements, I knew I had to give the novel a try.

All told, I’m pleased that I did, for while there were plenty of mixed feelings, on the whole I could see where a lot of the excitement and love for this book is warranted. Truthwitch is often lauded for having a strong female friendship at its core, though for me the magic was by far the most notable aspect, the novel’s crowning glory. In the Witchlands where this story takes place, many individuals are gifted with powers called “witcheries” and these can manifest in many different ways. Some are pretty straightforward—among an Airwitch’s arsenal of abilities is control over winds and air currents, for instance—but others are more complex.

Take Iseult, who is one of our main protagonists and also a magic user called a Threadwitch, which means her powers allow her to read people’s emotions and see the literal ties that bind relationships. Ironically, the only threads Iseult can’t read are her own, so she can’t even see the bonds that tie her to her own best friend Safiya, for example. Safi herself has a witchery too, and hers is a rare one, for she is a Truthwitch, someone who can tell truth from lie. For obvious reasons, Safi’s power makes her highly coveted by powerful people, like rulers who believe having a Truthwitch will give them an advantage over their adversaries. For this reason, Safi’s witchery must remain a closely guarded secret.

War, however, has other plans. Safi and Iseult are “threadsisters”, which actually makes them closer than friends and in some ways even more than family. The two young women want nothing more than to be left alone to live their own lives, but the encroaching politics of the world will snatch those dreams away, making it difficult to hide. When Safi is promised to the emperor against her will, she refuses to be a pawn and devises her own escape, placing her fate and her friend’s in the hands of Merik, a dashing prince and sea captain. Unfortunately, their hasty retreat has also caught the attention of a Bloodwitch, and everyone knows there’s no running once one has got your scent.

First, the pros: As I alluded to before, I was very impressed with the magic, especially when the straightforward names of the individual types of witcheries often belied their hidden intricacies and other uses. Some witches are more powerful than others, or may exhibit different talents at varying strengths. This means that not all Airwitches will have the same air-manipulating abilities, and it’s common for one Airwitch to be able to do something that another can’t. Some kinds of witcheries also involve powers I never would have expected. Apart from controlling fire, for example, some Firewitches are also healers, but only if they have the training and aptitude for it. And they can’t heal all manners of injuries either, only some of them. So, if you have muscle damage, a Firewitch might be able to help, but for certain maladies of the blood, a Waterwitch might be a better bet. The different “rules” of the systems are all very elaborate and fascinating.

There’s also a lot to take in when it comes to the story, and personally, this was something I welcomed. Too often, I find myself frustrated with YA novels that feel overly simplistic or jejune, so it’s always nice whenever I encounter a YA fantasy with a more substantial plot and multiple layers to the narrative. There’s a whole web of complicated politics here that I did not expect and was pleasantly surprised to find, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the underlying conflicts between the three rival empires.

Now, the cons: Quite frankly, the biggest disappointment I had with this novel were the characters themselves. My favorite was the sensible and level-headed Iseult, and to my dismay she had a much more passive and diminished role compared to Safi, even though I believe the author tried to balance both of them equally. In reality though, Safi with her recklessness and hot temper dominated the show, but her personality frequently bordered on annoying. Her burgeoning romance with Merik also did very little for me, because I often found his character just as exasperating, if not more. You can tell this is a guy who tries hard to be an Alpha, but instead he comes across as an overbearing and insensitive blowhard.

Finally, as much as I admire Dennard’s vision to write a YA novel where female friendship takes center stage, I honestly didn’t feel much of it. Sure, the story tries repeatedly to drill Iseult and Safi’s closeness into your head, but the truth can be gleaned in the first third of the book where the girls get separated and spend much of the time apart. Here’s what ends up happening: Safi spends a lot more time in her head pondering the handsome and charming Prince Merik than she ever does being concerned with her threadsister’s wellbeing and whereabouts. Which actually shouldn’t have surprised me at all, though for moment I did hope that romance would take a backseat to sisterhood and friendship. Simply put, it’s not enough for the narrative to tell me Iseult and Safi are BFFs, I need to feel it.

There’s immense potential for the series though, and in spite of my issues with this book, the parts I did enjoy really stood out for me. And in truth, the characters started to improve for me towards the end of the novel, especially when it comes to Safi, and that really shows growth in her personality. My interest is piqued enough right now that I’m actually quite curious about the next book, and I hope that Iseult will have a more significant presence in the sequel and that the girls’ friendship will truly have a chance to shine.

3-5stars

Mogsy 2

26 Comments on “YA Weekend: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard”

  1. I always enter YA with a great deal of trepidation! Especially hyped ones.. usually this means I’m pleasantly surprised more than anything though 😛

    Great review though. I’m not sure I’ll pick this one up, I’m not sure I could deal with any exasperating characters and the whole try-hard alpha male thing really puts me off (I think I already hate him and I’ve not even read it!).

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  2. To be honest this wasn’t one I was intending picking up – not particularly because of all the hype but just because I’m overfaced and trying to be sensible! I think a really strongly written friendship was the one in Uprooted – it wasn’t a perfect friendship – they had their flaws and their moments but it made it a bit more real.
    Lynn 😀

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  3. It’s funny – we rated this similarly but we had different issues with it…as much as I was fascinated with the magical system here, I felt like I needed more information or back story on it all. Some of the powers just didn’t build up as fluidly as say, in Avatar: the Last Airbender which was said to be an inspiration for this book. The thing with being Threadsisters and all that – I wanted to know how it really worked, I wanted history on how these powers came to be. It just felt like the book stumbled a bit for the first 100 or so pages and it was because of that. Like you though, I connected with Iseult much more and wished she would have had more time to shine…and I kind of ship her with someone who gave her a lot of grief LOL! Much more than the main ship which didn’t do much for me either. Anyway, it was fun reading your take on this one – here’s hoping the sequel lays are issues to rest 🙂

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    • That interesting how we can have similar feelings about the book but what I thought was done well needed much more work in your eyes! And now that you mention it, I do agree – the whole concept behind “threadsisters” was not really touched upon. And clearly, it’s not a phenomenon specific to only Iseult and Safi, so I wonder at the details about how those strong bonds are formed. And I have an idea of who you think Iseult should ship, I think we might get more on that next book…hopefully! 😀

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  4. I’m still reading Truthwitch right now, and to be honest it’s been quite a struggle. My biggest gripe about the book right now is Susan Dennard’s writing style (lots of fragments and short sentences, which gives it a very choppy flow, IMO), but I also share your thoughts about the characters, especially who is our favorite POV character (Iseult is mine, too) and who annoys us most (Safiya).

    That said, you mentioned that the book gets better as it goes along, and another reading pal had mentioned the same. So I’ll do my best and hang on for the end to see if things improve. And I do agree, the magic system is very, very cool.

    FYI – I’ve heard the title of Book #2 is going to be Windwitch, so it sounds like the sequel might be mostly Merik’s story…?

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    • This definitely was a book that I had to push through before it got better. I didn’t think the beginning was all that bad, really, but the politics were a little confusing. I think that was what made the intro slower for me, and once I got everything straight, the reading went much smoother.

      And Windwitch also makes me think it might be about Merik!

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  5. After all the hype it’s nice to read a review that has a little more “middle of the road” feelings about it. I tend to approach books that are extremely hyped with a small amount of caution too. It’s rare when one that is extremely hyped really captivates me, so I feel like I’m easier disappointed in the book than I would have been if it hadn’t been so hyped. I’m going through that right now with reading “A Court of Thorn and Roses”. I expected to love it, but there are so many aspects that I’m not thrilled with.

    Anyway, this one sounds good for the magic system. I like that it’s a little more complex with people with the same main ability not being able to do the exact same things as each other. I’ll pick this one up from the library eventually I think.

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  6. Ha, finally, a level-headed review of this book. I never trust the OH MY GOSH, IT’S FANTASTIC reviews that seem to pop up in the wake of enormously hyped-up books. I don’t think I’ll read this book until the entire series is out – I actually wasn’t put off by your review, it’s just that all the warning bells are ringing whenever I read anything about it. I don’t even know – it seems like most reviews focus on what you mentioned: a) the magic system and b) the friendship. But what about the story? Is it any good? Agh. It’s really hard to decide sometimes.
    In any case, thanks for the review, it was just what I needed. 🙂

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    • Haha, well, I didn’t want to sound too negative either, because on the whole I did enjoy this one a lot! But compared to the gushing reviews, yeah, this was likely not as glowing. Waiting until the series is done, or at least until more books come out seems like a prudent idea. It’s good to see what direction things are going until you pick it up. Too many YA series I’ve tried have started out strong only to fizzle out, while others have started out tepid but later really took off.

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  7. Yes I much prefer Iseult to Safi as well – I find her a lot more relatable and less overbearing. I also think Safi suffers a little bit from special snowflake syndrome in a more obvious manner in this book: everyone wants her or her power, people inexplicably lay their lives down for her, etc… But I have high hopes for the friendship. I hope Susan Dennard delivers with the sequel.

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  8. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  9. Pingback: YA Weekend Audio: Windwitch by Susan Dennard | The BiblioSanctum

  10. Pingback: YA Weekend Audio: Sightwitch by Susan Dennard | The BiblioSanctum

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