Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Series: Truthwitch #1
Pages: 415
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release date: 5th January 2016
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK

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Goodreads synopsis:
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.

This book was one of those rare times that I was ridiculously excited to read it, despite having never picked up a book by this author before. It was the kind of excitement reserved for Neil Gaiman, Sarah J Maas, Matt Haig and David Levithan.
It was a kind of excitement that perhaps gave this book shoes that were just a little too big for it to fill. Expectations and hype are dangerous things, and unfortunately, I don't think they gave Truthwitch much of a chance.

However, this was by far not a terrible book, so I think I will sandwich the problems I have with it between positive points so that it begins and ends on a high – which oddly enough, is sort of what the book itself does, with an excellent opening and exciting finish.
The opening chapters – particularly the first chapter – are exceptionally strong. We're dropped straight into the action, meeting main characters Safi and Iseult as they attempt to ambush a carriage on its way out of the city. But in a truly majestic style, everything goes completely wrong and they end up attacking a Guildmaster's carriage. This makes them two of the most wanted criminals in the city and means that they have to go on the run.
These scenes were very exciting, and I felt as though I was really getting to know Safi and Iseult, and was getting to see their relationship up-close from the beginning, which was fantastic.

However, it sort of went downhill from there. A few chapters in, I was beginning to become confused about quite a few things, most of all about the worldbuilding.
It wasn't the geographical locations that were the problem – there's a beautiful map in the front of the book that contains place names and landmarks etc – I could place myself geographically in the story very well because of this. It was more the political system and the structure of the hierarchy within the city. I didn't understand fully what Doms and Domnas were (they appear to be some sort of lords and ladies, but I'm not 100% sure), and I didn't understand where the Guildmasters came into it. It just didn't feel very clear to me.
And that's all without mentioning this 'Great War' and the '20 year Truce'. I don't think the reasons behind the war were ever explained (other than maybe a fight for land?), and there are lingering prejudices between certain races that were not explained either.
There was a lot of hostility throughout the book towards Iseult for being Nomatsi, but the only explanation that was given towards this was that she was Nomatsi. From what I can tell, they are sort of like this fantasy world's gypsies, but that doesn't explain the hostility at all! I found this really frustrating. I'd also have liked to see more of the different cultures and experience them for myself, rather than simply be told about them from afar.

While I'm on the subject of Iseult and her culture, there is a whole scene in the first third of the book where Iseult briefly returns home. I personally could not see a point to this scene. Yes, I understand that it was allowing us to see Nomatsi culture and how they live, introducing Isesult's family and explaining why she left them, but that was as far as it went. It didn't feel relevant to the rest of the story – which I thought it would, considering how in depth and tense it was – and the characters that were introduced only came up in passing conversation later on. Nothing significant enough for the scene to have felt like a part of the narrative as a whole.
I get that this scene is probably setting up something for the second book, moving characters around in the world so they can be in a particular place later on, but it still felt odd and out of place, and it was only mentioned very briefly later on.

The magic system is another thing that I feel quite conflicted about. On the one hand, I like that there are different kinds of witches, and I enjoyed learning about some of them (the idea of a Bloodwitch is very cool, and I liked his character a lot ... typical bad guy!), but there were others I didn't entirely understand. Iseult is a threadwitch, for example ... I'm still not 100% sure what that means. She's also Safi's threadsister ... and although I can kind of glean meaning in this (that they have a very close bond etc etc), I feel like it should mean something more than that, but I'm not sure what. There are also 'heart-threads', which I guess make a little more sense than threadsisters, but I would still like a little more explanation.

Confusion itself was a little bit a theme in this book for me. Not only did I not fully understand the magic system or the world, but there were sections of this book – whole paragraphs and pages, sometimes – that I had to re-read in order to make sense of them. Now, I did think that maybe it was just me, so I spoke to some friends about it; turns out I'm not alone. I found action sequences could be especially confusing – characters seemed to appear in scences out of nowhere and details were put in so suddenly that I felt completely thrown off. It made the scenes feel clunky and awkward and I feel like I didn't get as much from them as I could have done.

Relationships in this book were also a little awkward to me. The only relationship I really felt any connection to was Safi and Iseult's. Aside from theirs, I just couldn't bring myself to care about connections to any of the other characters. Merrick felt weirdly flat, and (controversial opinion time!) I just didn't care about him or his ever-shifting and confusing relationship with Safi. It felt forced and unnecessary.

I'm possibly giving this book a little more of a hard time than it deserves, though. I think the hype that surrounded its release made expectations too high. The fact that I know Susan Dennard is close friends with Sarah J. Maas probably didn't help either, as I was expecting this book to be similar to the Throne of Glass or Court of Thorns and Roses series, but of course, it wasn't going to be.
And it's not that this was a terrible book – it really wasn't. Truthwitch does have a fair few things going for it, and the ending was strong enough that I think I will be picking up the second book.

I hope the sequel – Windwitch – dives a little deeper into this fantasy world and sets a few things straight for me. I wanted so much to love Truthwitch, especially after I'd heard so many fantastic things about it, but it wasn't the amazing adventure I'd hoped it would be. It wasn't fantastic, but it wasn't terrible either. A fairly good read, but one that still fell a little short of the mark for me.

3.5 stars.


ishhu said...

wow nice blog in my opinion could not see a factor to this scene. yes, I take into account that it was allowing us to look Nominate tradition and how they stay, introducing Result's own family and explaining why she left them, but that changed into as far as it went. I'm working in this website It failed to feel applicable to the relaxation of the tale which I thought it would, thinking about how intensive and stressful it become and the characters that were brought best got here up in passing communique later on.

Hyacinth Marius said...

Truthwitch is a fantastic first installment in the Witchlands series, and I have absolutely no idea how I am going to be able to wait for the second! One of the best YA fantasy novels I have read, and a firm favourite!

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