REVIEW: Truthwitch – Susan Dennard

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Author: Susan Dennard (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Tor

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Buy now:  ebook | paperback

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.

This book was given to me as a Secret Santa gift by a friend of mine who has oft-lamented with me over the dude-heavy state of high fantasy as a genre. This has, thankfully, changed over the last decade or so, and particularly in the YA market we are seeing some really great female authors writing some amazing second-world books with strong female characters.

This is one of them, and I really enjoyed it.

It took me a while to settle into, and several false starts, however this was definitely my own fault for trying to read it during the most hectic month of my life, rather than anything to do with the book itself, because when I finally had time to sit down and properly, calmly read it, I began to blitz through it.

The concept, as I tried to explain to my husband, is somewhat like that of The Last Airbender. Magic is divided into different elements – Water, Earth, Fire, Wind, Aether and Void. Witches can only be from one element, but within that element their talents may be more specific – an Earth witch with a specialism in Iron, for example; an Aether witch who can create glamours, or see the emotional threads that carry and connect people, or can tell whether someone is telling the truth.

Which brings us to our title character, Safi. She is blonde, fighty and Takes No Shit, and I love her a little. Particularly when she is contrasted to her friend Iseult, who is her total opposite both in appearance and temperament. This pairing was wonderful on a lot of levels – I love seeing women having a strong, intense bond like this, and it is made very clear that their bond is the most important in either of their lives; but also it allowed their strengths and weaknesses to be highlighted in contrast to each other. Taken independently, I think I could have read Safi as abrasive, overly aggressive and irrational, whilst Iseult independently would be my ideal protagonist because she seems thoughtful, measured, and in control of herself. By placing them together, Safi’s strengths become apparent, as do Iseult’s weaknesses, and they become much more rounded characters. In my review for The Belles, I talked about how I liked seeing female characters given the chance to be imperfect, flawed, and this is the case here, beautifully. Safi’s pride and temper, and Iseult’s reticence and the way she hides her emotions both cause a significant amount of problems, but it works for their characters and the plot.

Safi is the titular Truthwitch, a very rare type of witch who can sense when people are being dishonest, or are disguised. She has to keep this a secret, because her powers could make her a powerful weapon, or a high profile target. Iseult is a Threadwitch, who can see the connections between people, the emotions they are feeling. But Iseult is not a full Threadwitch, and she has been estranged from her tribe – she is a Nomatsi, a culture of travellers – and faces persecution everywhere she goes. This was another wonderful element of the book – whilst this is a second world novel, it still addresses issues of racism and racial prejudice. It doesn’t use its setting as an excuse to wave aside these issues.

Whilst comparing the novel to The Last Airbender may be a little reductive, it is only in the most positive ways I use the comparison. There is the same diversity of cast, of cultures, nations with defined and delineated customs and behaviours. The world building in Truthwitch is quite delightful, and I am looking forward to seeing more of it in the sequel. This book ticks a lot of my boxes in terms of character descriptions, personalities, richness of world and a well-defined and implemented system of magic. I even enjoyed the romance – it was obvious from the first meeting that it would happen, but it is exactly my favourite kind of romance, two stubborn fiery people being aggressively attracted to each other and really annoyed about it. I fully ship it.

This is a really good first novel in a series, dropping hints to a larger world that you want to see more of, and also of a larger plot that I can’t wait to see resolved.

Briefly:

  • Two well-rounded, individual female leads with independent backstories and a wonderful bond.
  • A romance which doesn’t seem unnecessary, and at no point was I left wondering if this was really the time or place. If anything I wanted them to hurry up a bit, because the UST was strong, and it was lovely.
  • It is a bit… hell-for-leather for most of the book. From the very beginning, Safi and Iseult are being chased in some way or another, and are constantly on the run, in danger. This drives the plot quickly, but can be a bit exhausting. I hope in future books we get some time to see them at rest, and see how they are when they’re not under extreme pressure.
  • I love the building of the world and the rules of magic within it, it feels very fresh and it is wonderfully executed.

Rating: 4/5 – I am invested in these characters and their stories, and I want to see the resolution. I also want to see them sit down and be happy for like five minutes.

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