Book Review: Truthwitch

Book Review: TruthwitchTruthwitch (The Witchlands, #1) by Susan Dennard
Published by Tor Teen on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 430
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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.

Truthwitch really blew me away with its original ideas of Threads and witchery, and its portrayals of strong and capable female heroines and their sisterhood. My biggest complaint about Truthwitch was, well, simply that it wasn’t bigger! I wanted to learn so much more about the gripping characters and the magic that shaped the world of the Witchlands and I would have happily read a 900 paged version of Truthwitch and looked for more. The only things that I think the novel really could have done better were its romantic relationships and spending more time showing us its fascinating world.


“If Safi’s magic ever became public knowledge, she would be used as a political tool … Or eliminated as a political threat. Safi’s power was that valuable and rare. Which was why, for Safi’s entire life, she’d kept her magic secret. Like Iseult, she was a heretic: an unregistered witch.”


Readers are thrust into Truthwitch’s world of witchery without much explanation. The author, Susan Dennard, assumes the reader is smart enough to pick up on what “Threads” are and how they play into the world and that of its main characters, Threadsisters Safiya “Safi” Fon Hesstrel and Iseult Det Midenzi. Both Safi and Iseult are unlike other witches. Safi is the first Truthwitch born in a century. The ability to tell truths from a lie puts her and everything she holds dear in extreme danger–for people would love to utilize her power for their own means. Her power and noble title of Domna makes her especially desirable to those in power, like government rulers.


“She was the natural tactician, while Safi was the one with the first sparks of an idea.”


 Safi’s Threadsister, Iseult also has her own type of magical vision with which to deal–she is a Threadwitch–and possibly something more. She can not only see the Threads of life in everything around her, but also the colors of them, revealing the emotions of their beholder–whether Iseult likes it or not. And it’s not just Iseult’s bond with Safi, or her witchery that sets her apart–Iseult also has to deal with the constant racism due to being a Nomatsi. All of these facets of the girls adds so much depth and character to their bond, which is the standout part of the novel. I loved that author Dennard wrote the novel from both girl’s perspectives, something that allowed the readers to get to know and love both Threadsisters equally and prevented either one of them from becoming a flat sidekick.


 And to top it off, when the girls find themselves in a literal world of trouble, they aren’t damsels in distress. They are educated, can speak multiple languages, witty, can also fight–with Safi weilding a sword and Iseult brandishing lethal Moon Scythes–and of course, have their rare Witchery at their disposal.


“Thread-bonds are unbreakable–and you know that better than anyone else. The day that you saved Safi’s life six years ago, you and she were bound together as Threadsisters. To this day, you would die for Safi, just as she would die for you.”


I was immediately floored by Safi and Iseult’s bond–every person reading Truthwitch will wish they had their own Threadsister or Threadbrother. The two are only at their best when they are together, with Safi’s confidence and impulsiveness, and Iseult’s logic and calm evening each other out. It was thrilling to read about not just one strong female character, but two. Plus, I think a lot of female-female friendships are usually stereotyped by jealousy and cattiness, or passed up for romantic female-male love, so it was a breath of fresh air to see only love and support in these two female characters. I loved that when romantic love with males entered the picture in the form of Prince Merik Nihar and Bloodwitch assassin Aeduan, it does not diminish the relationship of the girls in any way–they are still each other’s priority–something that is rarely seen in any novels I have read.


She had her Threadsister beside her. That was all that mattered–all that had ever mattered.”


Unlike the amazing female friendship of Truthwitch, I did find the romances of the novel to be a little problematic. After all, Safi’s love interest–the Prince of Nubreven and Admiral of its Navy–Merk, is known as “The Fury” due to his wild temper. At one point, he physically chains Safi to his ship, rain and all, as punishment for not following his orders and putting his crew in danger. I did not find the novel’s repeated assurances that Merik’s actions were just and done only as a means to keep order on his or that Safi had earned this punishment with her actions, at all convincing. To me, it reeked of normalized toxic masculinity. I also found it hard to believe that the people of Merik’s homeland loved him so much that they wept upon seeing him. Perhaps if the sequel to Truthwitch spends more time developing Merik, I will like him better, but the limited time I spent in his point-of-view did not endear him much to me. I was pleased when Safi repeatedly sassed him in riveting repartee and Iseult threatened him with violence if he hurt her Threadsister.


“‘On this ship, my word is law, Domna. Do you understand? Your title means nothing here.’ Safi lowered her eyes 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.’

‘I will take that as a “no” then.’”


The other developing romance in Truthwitch is not much better. Iseult’s love interest spends much of Truthwitch trying to murder the Threadsisters. But I am a sucker for enemies to lovers romances, and I know he will end up coming around, as Truthwitch grants us the privilege of seeing events unfold from his point-of-view. Though not the most ideal start at romantic relationships for either of the girls, I am still eager to see how they unfold, as I know the girls won’t allow themselves to be victims. 


If you wanted to Safiya, you could bend and shape the world. You have the training for it–I’ve seen to that.”


All the characters in Truthwitch are believable. Even with their strengths, they have weaknesses, and very different backgrounds. I did wish the novel spent a little more time diving into these backgrounds, especially that of Safi’s and Iseult’s. Instead of just telling readers how they found each other and became Threadsisters–I wanted to be shown first hand because from the very beginning of Truthwitch, I loved these two very different girls from vastly different worlds–Safi from a noble household and Iseult from a Nomatsi tribe–and wanted to know much, much more about them.


“…[T]hey wouldn’t care at all about breaking the Truce if it meant getting their hands on a Truthwitch.”


Similarly, I wish the novel had slowed its breakneck pace down a bit for some more world-building because what we are shown, is truly original and interesting. We learn that the Witchlands are an absolute political mess. They are only at peace during Safi and Iseult’s life due to a temporary Twenty Year Truce, which paused a devastating Great War. Readers learn this peace is about to expire and maybe sooner than anyone thought. Though we are shown the devastating results of varying Witches and their countries at war in Prince Merik’s ravaged homeland, it is unclear why exactly the war started. Wrapped up in this Great War is a mysterious legend that may live once again in Safi and Iseult.


 With Safi’s Witchery discovered, Truthwitch hurtles towards a devastating conflict for not just the Threadsisters, but for the entire world.  I honestly was so wrapped up in the threads of the characters, their bonds, and their struggles, as well as the believable dialogue, original magic system, and political scheming that I could not put Truthwitch down.  And when I finished the novel, I immediately purchased the second, Bloodwitch. I cannot wait to see where the next entry in the series takes Safi and Iseult and the Witchlands.


Book Review : Truthwitch - Blogging with Dragons

Posted February 7, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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