Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Truthwitch by Susan DennardTruthwitch by Susan Dennard
Narrator: The Witchlands
Series: The Witchlands #1
Published by Tor Teen on January 5, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

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 into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi 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.

My expectations for Truthwitch were, probably unsurprisingly, monstrously high. I adored Susan Dennard’s debut series, and she’s also the sweetest person in real life. Just within myself my expectations were through the roof. The hype machine also got going immediately after BEA and I’ve seen a string of five star reviews rolling in, which definitely did not help with the whole expectations thing. At the risk of being a black sheep for a book I actually liked, Truthwitch was a pretty good series starter but rather clunky.

In Something Strange and Deadly, I was immediately captured by Eleanor’s voice. The character was so strong, and I also had major shippy feels. That’s not so much where I ended up with Truthwitch. The third person POV felt much more distancing than the first person of Dennard’s debut. I like Safi and Iseult, but I don’t feel like I really know them or either of the other third person limited POV characters.

It might have helped me to have a bit more grounding in what the regular life and friendship of Safi and Iz was like. As the novel opens, they’re attempting a hold up which goes wrong. This begins my confusion, because it kind of seems like they’ve done this before and maybe do it regularly, but I’m honestly not sure. Now knowing what is actually canon is a big thing to be unsure about with these characters. I also didn’t really feel the intense friendship between them. I’m not sure if they care so much because that’s what threadsisters do by nature or if they have a real friendship bond like we have in this world. They were constantly in life or death peril and just thinking about how they would do anything to save each other, which on the one hand is cool and I love the focus on friendship but on the other hand also doesn’t feel like the healthiest friendship necessarily. I just didn’t really see any of that bantery friendship spark to their conversations.

Both of the possible ships have potential, but neither one’s quite working out for me so far. Partly, that’s because for some reason, when Safi and her love interest set to arguing, the POV tends to switch over to what Iseult is doing, rather than settling into the rage banter. Also, while it’s clearly going for a hate to love vibe, their romance also swings perilously close to instalove, due to the strings thing and their intense magical connection. The other ship hasn’t really gotten going yet, and I’m not entirely positive it will be a ship, but I’m sort of hoping it will be. The romance has also been rather cliched in a manga sort of way; I mean, three separate times one of the heroines literally fell on top of her potential love interest.

The biggest problem I had, though, was the world building. I’m still not entirely sure what’s up. It will help to know going in that it’s an alternate world that’s inspired by the Holy Roman Empire (seriously, look at the map even if you’re like me and usually don’t) combined with Avatar: The Last Airbender. There are more kinds of powers in this world though, and some of them are confusingly complicated. However, it seems like the three big powers in this world tend to specialize in Earthwitchery, Waterwitchery, and Firewitchery because of the wells located in their lands. I think? As I say, I struggled with this a lot. There’s a lot going on and I just don’t totally get it, which isn’t a problem I usually have.

Now I know that all sounds really bad and you’re probably wondering why I rated this book so highly. Well, after about two hundred pages, I finally managed to get to where I understood enough about the world building to get by and the plot got super exciting, and I couldn’t put the book down. I freaking SPED through the end, which was intense action scene after intense action scene with some breaks for sexual tension (but realized and unrealized). It’s hard to really explain how intense and fun this second half was (and some really cool plot developments), but it was so great that it lifted the rating up to 3.5, which I consider a really good rating.

I still don’t understand everything, but I’m now invested in the story, even if I’m not yet majorly invested in the individual characters. Actually, I think the character I’m currently most invested in is the villain, which is…interesting. View Spoiler » Given that I like all of the characters, the fast-paced action, and the fact that it’s a large scale fantasy, I’m pretty happy with Truthwitch overall, even if it wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped it would be. Fantasy often is a bit clunky for the first book before it really hits its stride. There’s a lot of world building and they can go either infodumpy or a bit confusing. Dennard’s got massive talent, and I think there’s tons of potential here. Plus, the moment I finished, I was like “excuse me, I need book two immediately” which is the right feeling to have when you’ve finished the first book in a series.

Despite the flaws, Truthwitch is an intriguing series debut and well worth the read. You might want to slightly adjust your expectations, but I would not recommend striking it from your to-read list altogether, as I’ve no doubt there’s much better to come.

Favorite Quote:

“On this ship, my word is law, Domna. Do you understand? Your title means nothing here.”
Safi nodded and fought the overwhelming urge to roll her eyes.
“But I am willing to offer you a deal. I won’t lock you in chains if you promise to stop behaving like a feral dog and instead behave like the domna you’re supposed to be.”
“But Prince”–she lowered her eyelids in an indolent blink–“my title means nothing here.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif i hate this being patient stuff avatar korra
Both me and the characters too lbr

5 responses to “Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard”

  1. Hannah says:

    Ha, I absolutely adored this one, but I totally agree with your criticism. I was confused with aspects of the powers and the world they inhabit, but sort of sped along and hoped it would be clarified later on.

    Also, I’m totally on board with the ships, although the instaconnection is too easy. I’m more interested in the second one. And I’m all for an intriguing villain!
    Hannah recently posted…Review: The First Thing You See – Gregoire DelacourtMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Yeah, even when I finished, I can’t say I had an amazing grip on the world, but I eventually got into it enough that I didn’t really care anymore. But man I’ve never wished for some infodumping so much.

      The thing that killed me is that Merik and Safi would be mid-argument and I’d be like YAS and then the POV would switch over to Iseult thinking about her family and I’d be like NOOOOOO. SHIP SOOZ SHIP.

  2. THANK YOU CHRISTINA!!^^ Gah! So far, I was the black sheep supreme for having issues with the world-building! I struggled with it a lot too. I’m sorry but as a reader of epic-fantasy, I need more than just titles of different witcheries to fully believe and grasp a magical world. I seriously needed more. I needed background, history, SOME explanations as to how every different witchery works. Even with the threads and Thread Sisters. I NEED to know how it all works. It just felt like we were thrown into this world and expected to get it straight away. But for me, the world-building is like my footing and if that isn’t solid, everything else crumbled around it.

    You are right that once it (finally) got going this was an enjoyable read. It was intense, and I enjoyed the strong friendship between two girls being at the forefront. I also really like Aeduan too – he’s my favorite thus far. This is definitely a promising start to a series, I just wish it’d delivered where it counts the most for me. In any case, THANK YOU for this review. I am not alone! Sigh.
    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews recently posted…2015 End of the Year SurveyMy Profile

  3. I feel like I’m going to align with you on this; I struggle with new fantasy series and worldbuilding, but it’s good to know that once you get a handle on it the book speeds by! It seems like I’ve been hearing about Truthwitch every day for 8 months haha. Pretty intimidated by the expectations.

  4. Julia Ember says:

    I really appreciated reading this review. I haven’t read Truthwitch myself yet … but I’ve almost been afraid to do so. There is so much hype surrounding the book, and when I go on twitter it’s all I can see! I’m afraid I won’t like it, and then I’ll resent all the hype … or feel massively disappointed. I like that your review was more balanced, less hype overload. Might shelve it and leave it until next year!

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