Published by Tor
So WOW! That was my initial reaction after I closed the book. I didn't read any reviews before I read this one. I have actually never read any of Susan Dennard's Something Strange and Deadly series even though I've seen her at signings and had my books signed. She is a delightful person and very warm and friendly. But we know, just because someone has a great personality and can entertain in person doesn't mean they can write. Right? No worries, she can write! I am pretty sure her first series proved that but honestly I'm too lazy to look it up. And I will read it, one day. Sooner rather than later based on this book.
For some reason, I have had trouble writing this review. I read it a few weeks ago and thought some time away from it would help but it hasn't. Usually, that means that I really, really enjoyed the book. So, my best attempt is just going to list out what I loved about the book and why.
First this book has all the fantasy elements I love. A completely made up world with forbidden magic and magical creatures. Witches! My favorite (well maybe along with Fairies). But I LOVE witches and there are so many different types of powers and strengths of powers. There are political struggles at court, pirates, kidnappings, and a fearsome and chilling villain called a Bloodwitch that still scares me. He is ruthless and unstoppable, seriously, bad witch. There are rich countries who have bullied poorer countries and a poor prince who is just trying to do the right thing. A secret society of monks and an even more secret prophecy. And two young women who just want to run away and live free.
The characters, the main ones are Safiya, Safi for short and Iseult. Safi is what is known as a Truthwitch, a rare type of witch and one that would either be used for political gain or killed so someone can't use her. For this reason her power has been kept secret. Iseult is a Threadwitch, she can see the threads, the futures of others, but it isn't exact. Her race is looked down upon, actually she experiences fierce racism, insults, spitting, cursing (actual curses) as soon as someone recognizes her from her pale skin and dark hair. I wasn't quite clear if it was because of what she could do ( most Threadwitches can cast spells, but Iseult has no such power) or if it was simply because of her race. Her family was described like they were part of a wandering tribe, perhaps they had no homeland. I wasn't clear on that.
The bond between Safi and Iseult is like nothing I've seen, it's stronger than any sisters and any lovers. The characters are both warm in their own way. Safi is easier to know because she is impulsive and loud. She can talk herself out of most situations. Iseult is quieter, the thinker and planner and slow to make herself known, the cleanup person. She lets her sword skills do her talking only if Safi needs help. The chapters that are from Safi or Iseult's point of view made me warm to them almost immediately seeing how they would die for each other. They are definitely a team, one doesn't really function as well without the other so wherever they end up, it will have to be together. I just see them withering without one another. They don't think of themselves at all or the trouble they are currently in, it is always for the other one. Safi never feels herself above Iseult even though she is actually close to royalty and Iseult is almost an outcast because of her race, if not for Safi. As later characters come into the story, I was able to get a picture of how others saw them. Its an interesting way to develop a character, but it worked really well. The slurs and insults hurled at Iseult were quite jarring when I knew just how far she would go for her friend, I knew her as a person and didn't even really understand what she looked like until the slurs started. Then I thought "if they only knew what she's done..." And isn't that just as true today?? Judged by looks before we even know who a person is.
There is another character that comes in later that becomes a main character, Prince Merik. He is young, as young as Safi and Iseult. He is a Windwitch, a useful power as he is Commander of the Navy of his country, but it has little power behind the title. His country was ravaged in the last war, the soil and water poisoned by Earth and Water Witches when the larger countries turned on his small country. He is desperate to make some kind of trade agreement with anyone in the capital city and strikes a deal that puts his destiny in the direct path of Safi's and Iseult's because they come as a pair. I like Merik. He appears strong and self assured. But when we read chapters from his point of view, we see that he is just as unsure of himself as Safi or even more so. He's trying to do the right thing, by everyone. The relationship between him and whoever, is very slow to develop. It is very much in the back of the storyline, but just enough to make me happy.
The pacing of the story is fast, there isn't a lot of down time. I like that because the book is 400 pages. The writing is succinct. It isn't complicated. The story is very sophisticated so that you have to pay attention and any of that other stuff would get in the way. Yes, there are words like Threadbrother and Threadsister that we don't know immediately what they are but you should be able to understand it from the context. I like made up language in stories as long as I can figure out what it means. It goes along with the made up world. There should be made up language, powers, people, monsters and countries in a good fantasy.
Susan Dennard could have left everything happy and in a good place at the end of the book, but she chose a different kind of ending. It isn't sad or a cliffhanger. But let's just say everyone isn't happy. I doubt it will remain that way for long when the next book opens given the pacing of this book. I'm satisfied with the ending but you have to read to the very last sentence to get to that point. Don't cheat either. You'll deprive yourself of all the fun of getting there!
This is a sweeping fantasy-epic if I may say. Great characters with strong female bonds. A slow building romance (truce at this point). And a lot at stake for Safi, Merik and Iseult. I'm eager for the next book in the series! Highly recommended!
There is some violence in this book but not very graphic. No sexual content. No profanity.
You can find Susan Dennard at Website and you can find out more about Witchlands at the official website that has interviews with Dennard and excerpts and interesting tidbits to make you want to read the book. You can find it at TheWitchlands.com