Susan Dennard – Sightwitch

And I’m back with more Witchlands. The next instalment in the series just came out, so I didn’t want to read it right away (makes the wait for the next book shorter). But thankfully, there is this prequel-novella (200 pages still counts as a novella?) about side-character Ryber.

SIGHTWITCH
by Susan Dennard

Published by: Tor Teen, 2018
Ebook: 224 pages
Series: The Witchlands #2.5
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: You don’t remember me, do you, Kullen?

Before Safi and Iseult battled a Bloodwitch…
Before Merik returned from the dead…
Ryber Fortiza was a Sightwitch Sister at a secluded convent, waiting to be called by her goddess into the depths of the mountain. There she would receive the gift of foretelling. But when that call never comes, Ryber finds herself the only Sister without the Sight.
Years pass and Ryber’s misfit pain becomes a dull ache, until one day, Sisters who already possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain, never to return. Soon enough, Ryber is the only Sister left. Now, it is up to her to save her Sisters, though she does not have the Sight—and though she does not know what might await her inside the mountain.
On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together, the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, their road filled with horrors, and what they find at the end of that road will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.
Set a year before TruthwitchSightwitch is a companion novella that also serves as a set up to Bloodwitch, as well as an expansion of the Witchlands world.

Although this is technically a prequel (#0.5 of the Witchlands, if you will), and you can read it without having read any of the other books in the series, I think it is better to read it after Windwitch. Certain things that happen in this novella could spoil the second book otherwise. So, if you’ve read the first two Witchlands novels, you have already met Ryber Fortiza on Prince Merik’s crew and you know she and Merik’s Threadbrother Kullen are together.

Here, we meet a much younger Ryber during her time with the Sightwitches, waiting to be summoned herself and gain the power of Sight – remembering everything immediately, seeing the future, preserving memories from the dead. Year after year, young Sightwitch Sisters are summoned into the mountain to converse with the Goddess Sirmaya. Except Ryber. Yet she doesn’t give up, she follows every rule and is a model student, hoping that her devotion will get her summoned eventually.

It’s a great set-up for a story and one that made me sympathise with Ryber immediately. Nobody likes being the one left behind. And as Ryber watches her friends, especially her Threadsister Tanzi, summoned, with herself  still left Sightless, she becomes more and more desperate. When all Sightwitch Sisters are summoned, leaving Ryber completely alone, she knows that following the rules isn’t an option anymore. If she doesn’t take matters into her own hands, none of the Sightwitches might ever return. An no rulebook is worth that!

It was really nice that this shorter book finally explained the magic in a bit more detail. Sure, we focus on Sightwitches here, completely ignoring all the other magic out there, but the system seemed beautifully thought out and even based on a sort of common mythology. I guess that mythology and ancient history will be quite important for the series in general. We learn how people in the Witchlands came to possess magic in the first place and the events that led to this change. I found all of that incredibly interesting, not just because it’s a great story in itself but also because it gives the world so much more depth than it had with just the two main books in the series.

But this book isn’t only about Ryber and her journey into the mountain to save the other Sightsisters. We jump back in time to another Sightwitch’s life – in fact, we jump straight  into Eridysi’s journals and learn what was going on a thousand years before Ryber. I also really liked Eridysi as a character and found her story almost more intriguing than Ryber’s. But – you may have guessed – the two stories aren’t just there by happenstance, they do connect in the end.

Ryber’s trip into the mountain was probably the most annoying part of the book. She meets Kullen (no spoiler, it’s literally on the first page) and while they don’t exactly hit it off, they form an alliance of sorts to try and get out of the crazy mountain alive. Why crazy, you ask? Well, there’s all sorts of monster and weird rooms and other stuff that wants to kill you down there. Fun to read, for sure, but I was way more interested in the background stories. Fleshing out the story of the Paladins and how they died many, many years ago. How magic came to the Witchlands, what kind of doors Eridysi was trying to build and whether she ever succeeded.

In the end, things connect really well, and many questions were answered. Although even more appeared, especially when it comes to Kullen and certain events from Windwitch. This book also doesn’t continue seamlessly into Truthwitch so I’m left wanting to know how Ryber got from the end of this book to where she is when we first meet her on Merik’s ship. But all things considered, this was a nice shorter trip into the Witchlands and I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read the series. Sometimes, you can leave out the bonus novellas or short stories that come with book series, but this one just feels important to the overall world.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Very good

Susan Dennard – Windwitch

After the happy surprise that was Truthwitch, I decided to continue Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series and see where she takes her characters and what else I can learn about this world. Unfortunately, there were a lot of things wrong with this sequel, but not enough to deter me completely from the series. I have high hopes for the next instalment and I’m already reading the (so far really great) prequel Sightwitch.

WINDWITCH
by Susan Dennard

Published by: Tor, 2017
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: The Witchlands #2
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence:  Blood on the floor.

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…
After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.
When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?
After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Well, if ever there was a book that started with a bang, this is it! When I started reading, I thought for a little while that I had skipped a volume or missed a chapter because boy, stuff goes down right away! Prince Merik escaped from his exploding ship and now lives in hiding, scarred, hurt, and somewhat depressed at the state of his home country and himself. He misses his Threadbrother, he has no plan on what to do next, and he can’t stop thinking about Safiya fon Hasstrel…

Meanwhile, Safi and Iseult – separated as per the end of book one – don’t have it much easier. Iseult desperately tries to find Safi again and stumbles across Bloodwitch Aeduan – my (and probably most other readers’) favorite character. Safi starts out much like Merik, with a shipwreck and on the run. So the stakes are high right from the start, there is lots of interesting conflict  and character development to come, and I sank into this book smiling smugly, knowing I had chosen wisely.

And to be fair, the book does deliver a lot of these early promises. But it also has a lot of problems. Let’s start with the good stuff. I enjoyed, more than anything else, Iseult’s character development, the things that are revealed in her storyline, and above all her relationship with Aeduan. These two are thrown together by fate and continue their journey side by side for a while to mutual benefit. But as you can imagine, a sort of friendship does form, although one expressed through grunts and constantly saving each others lives rather than through actual spoken words. I loved every second of Iseult and Aeduan, especially because we get to read both their POVs and see how they’re both unsure they can trust the other person but they also both want the other person to stay alive.

Merik’s storyline was also not bad, although it had major parts that were too drawn out and quite frankly boring. He returns to his home unrecognizably scarred and while he enjoys this new anonymity, he still wants to save his kingdom. We also finally get to know Merik’s sister, Vivia, and let’s just say, there is more to her than meets the eye. I should say more than Merik has led us to believe so far. Because we get to see this ruthless, bloodthirsty and power-hungry character through her own POV chapters, she feels much more three-dimensional, much more multi-layered and although I can’t say I liked her (at least not at first), there is no denying that she was interesting as hell to read about!

Safi’s story was actually the weakest of them all. There were more things I disliked about her story than things I liked. First of all was the fact that her and  Vaness get throwin into situations involving other nations, bands of pirates, weird magic-resistant guys, and yet more groups of people who we may have heard of before but I just found it all very confusing and had a difficult time keeping all the new characters and factions straight. There is not enough explanation, not enough time to understand the world-building properly to get into the whole “which faction is betraying with other faction” thing.
Even worse though was Safi’s fickleness when it comes to the romance. I really liked her tense relationship with Merik in the first book and I wanted these two to find each other again. But Safi wastes no time being attracted to other men. Of course I know this happens, particularly with a teenager like Safi, but I felt disappointed in her nonetheless.

The middle part of the book is a bit of a drag all-round, with quick POV changes but very little happening to push the plot forward in each of the story lines. I felt like Iseult and Aeduan walked around for ages without getting any further, I felt Merik hid in the shadows without any plan of what to do, just sulking around, and Safi and Vaness stumbled from one kind of capture into the next – all without moving anything truly forward. But the last third of the book made up for the middle slog.

What really, really bothered me, especially toward the end, was the extremely quick jumps between characters. As soon as I got into a scene, felt comfortable with one character’s story line again, something shocking happens and it’s over – we jump to the next character. And then the same thing happens over again. And again. And again. It’s thrilling, no doubt, reading nothing but cliffhangers for about a hundred pages, but it never allowed me to fully engage with any one character or their story because I was constantly being ripped out of it again. I think putting the individual character sequences together differently would have greatly improved the book. But hey, that’s just me.

Despite the annoying POV jumps, the ending was quite epic. There were several revelations that open the world up even more and give plenty of room for the sequels. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the parts of the world that have already been established, as well as about the magic, but if the author decided to keep that for the upcoming books, I’m okay with that. This may have been a very flawed book that would have benefited off some better editing, but I’m still invested in the Witchlands and its characters. I can’t wait to finish the prequel Sightwitch and then dive straight into the newly-released Bloodwitch. Because, come on, it has to be focused on Aeduan and Aeduan is the best!

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

Susan Dennard – Truthwitch

Susan Dennard and Sarah J. Maas are best friends, it appears. While this may have enticed other readers, it actually made me shrink back a little from picking up Truthwitch. I just recently read my first Sarah J. Maas book and wasn’t impressed. But an open mind helps, in this case especially so, because Susan Dennard’s novel may have started off weak but turned into quite the rollercoaster of fun and romance and great friendships.

truthwitch

TRUTHWITCH
by Susan Dennard

Published by: Tor Teen, 2016
Ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Witchlands #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Everything had gone horribly wrong.

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.

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The opening chapters of Truthwitch both give you a good feeling about what’s to come and a very wrong impression of what the novel is actually about. You can rely on a fast-paced plot, a quick read, but don’t let the shaky world-building and the clunky attempts to bring the two protagonists to life keep you from reading on. It really does get much, much better. In fact, most things that made me roll my eyes during the first chapters turned into the aspects of the novel I liked best at the end. Patience is key here.

Safi and Iseult are best friends. More than friends, a fact that is hammered in so hard in the first two chapters that you’re unlikely to forget. They are Threadsisters, a bond which isn’t ever really explained but kind of understood from context. These two girls would die for each other and I loved that this type of relationship is what the whole story centers around. However, we are told much more than shown how close Safi and Iseult really are. Their respective back stories, their past, isn’t revealed until later in the book and it would have really helped to understand their relationship better. I also still find it unclear what they did every day before the shit hit the fan and the events of Truthwitch took their course. Sure, they mention having teachers and learning stuff, they apparently enjoy conning people in their spare time, but none of that was believable or memorable. So that’s a big no from me for the first few chapters. Fast-paced they may be, but the don’t do much for either world-building or introducing the characters properly.

However! It turns out Safi is quite an important person – even with her witchery a secret from most of the world – and needs to make one last appearance at a royal ball before her uncle will allow her to leave and live her life in freedom. No responsibilites, no ties to her noble family, no fear of being caught up in politics. It is this ball that changes a mediocre novel into a thrilling, fun, action-packed adventure that has a bit of everything. If you’re just starting the book and you get to the part with the ball, prepare a pot of tea (or your beverage of choice), something to munch and a cozy blanket. You will not want to put Truthwitch down after this.

At this ball, Safi meets Merik, a Nubrevnan prince desperately seeking trade agreements for his starving kingdom. The two immediately dislike each other and start fighting – if you’ve been following my blog you know what that means. The pages kept flying by because I needed this two bickering idiots to get together. So the romance was one part that made things interesting. And let me tell you, as much as they are both fighting their feelings, whenever they clash (literally and figuratively), Susan Dennard shows just what she can do. Unlike the cheesy, drippy scenes I had been afraid of, she actually delivers super exciting, sexy stuff. More of that in the next book, please!

The other reason I ended up loving this book was the world-building. Again, this was the weakest bit in the first few chapters, as nothing seemed to make sense, even internally. There are witches – I don’t know if everybody is born with a witch gift or just some people, but it appears everyone can do something. These witchy powers come from the elements, but that also doesn’t make a lot of sense. Some Waterwitches are healers but they can only heal blood (because it’s liquid, I assume), while other healers have to be Firewitches – they can heal other body parts, and so on. Windwitches have vastly differing powers as well. Some can fly, others can control the weather, yet others are probably healers… I don’t really know. Every type of element-witch seems to have sub-witches. Waterwitches can be Tidewitches, and they are the ones controlling the seas to push a ship, for example. You see, it’s all pretty confusing, but after a while I just accepted that this is like human Pokémon on steroids and went with it.

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What’s interesting about that is that Safi and Iseult’s gift are both passive. There are immensely powerful witches who can control other people’s blood or their air supply and are (obviously, because people are assholes) used as weapons. And then you have Safi, who can tell if somebody is lying or not. And Iseult, who sees people’s threads and, in the threads’ colors, their emotions. There also is an ancient mythology/prophecy telling of two witches who will be the chosen ones… it would have been so nice to see this trope subverted but I guess we can’t have everything. Still, the idea of witches has a lot of potential. Maybe Susan Dennard can throw in a spin-off novel about witch academy or something so I can make sense of her world-building. I would totally read that.

Another thing I loved was that Safi and Iseult both get to be protagonists. The story switches between view points, so we see the events unfold through Safi and Iseult’s eyes, but also (and here’s another big thank you to Susan Dennard for being awesome) from the Bloodwitch Aeduan’s perspective as well as Merik’s. Aeduan is on the hunt for our heroines, fully intending to kill them or at least use them, but giving this villain a chapter or two to show us his side makes him much more human, if not exactly less scary. I loved Merik from the start but, again, his character gained a lot from having things told from his point of view. He’s not only the gruff, serious love interest, he’s an actual person with problems of his own. A lot of problems, I might add.

All things considered, I loved this book. Yes, it has problems, but they are problems I can overlook because the things that were done well are all more important to me than a perfectly-planned magic system. Iseult and Safi’s relationship still feels a bit wobbly but their strong bond became more and more believable the more I read. The romance was spot on (and I can see another one coming up), even side characters are fleshed-out. The story moves at breakneck speed and whether you want people controlling crazy weather, fighting giant monsters at sea, or sword fights, there’s a bit of everything here.

Sure, certain things are extremely predictable (the romance, the prophecy), but others genuinely surprised me. It’s difficult to say who the real antagonist is in this world. There are kingdoms preparing for war and any one of them could be considered evil (or just trying to save their own people), Aeduan has no qualms about catching Safi and using her for his master’s purposes, but then another villain appears and that is the scariest of them all. Add to that the truce between nations that is about to end – will the war pick up where it left, will people be reasonable and come to an agreement? Will the rulers of these kingdoms do their best for their people or for their own personal gain? I have ideas about that but I’d much rather see what Susan Dennard comes up with.

In the end, a lot of questions are unanswered, a lot of plot strings left hanging, but at the same time Truthwitch tells a satisfying tale that introduces an intersting world and even allows its characters time to grow. As bad as it may have started, I am quite in love with this story now and will definitely pick up the next book in the series.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 –  Very good!

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Second opinions: