Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: 2nd January (US) 14th January (UK)
Truthwitch, by Susan Dennard, is the first book I read this year. OK, technically, I read the majority of it last year, since I was kindly given an ARC via NetGalley and started reading it immediately. Fast-forward a few months and add in the old and boring blah-blah-chronic-illness-sucks spiel, and I only just finished it, two weeks ahead of the UK release. (It still counts as an ARC review, OK?! It does!) Anyway, I’d been reading it whenever I could, devouring it—if somewhat less speedily than I’d have liked.
But at least this way I can testify that no matter how you tackle the goodness that is Truthwitch—quickly, and with lots of mocha to get you through those small, wee hours (and the following morning!) so well known to readers who just can’t put a book down; or savoured over time, nibbled and sipped, secreted away in the bathroom over lunch or hidden under your desk when you should be actually at your desk—does not disappoint. And furthermore: the hype is real.
As Dennard said when I interviewed her for Fantasy Faction, the publicity team soon realised that there was already a natural hype building up around Truthwitch, even before the inception of the Witchlanders and Street Teams. I think everyone who sampled even a little piece of Truthwitch, like a tiny piece of cake that makes you go oh my god, knew it was going to be something special. Something big.
And it is. The hype is real.
In Truthwitch, we meet Safiya and Iseult, two Threadsisters—which is going to be the new word everyone is using for BFFs this year—who are so closely linked to one another as to be kin; they are sisters as well as friends as well as a thousand things between. Both are witches—both Aetherwitches—and both are going to change the world.
When one of Safi’s wild schemes goes awry, it doesn’t take long for the girls’ entire worlds to tip upside down, but nothing can prepare them for what lies ahead. Thanks to the tangled and secretive plan her drunk of an uncle is hatching, Safi finds herself at the centre of a very dangerous chain of machinations. She perhaps wouldn’t mind so much (well, she would), if she wasn’t always worried about her secret being discovered—especially when she could be killed for that secret.
Safi is a Truthwitch. She can tell truth from lie, and even though she knows the limitations of such a witchery, the world holds Truthwitches as all-powerful; tools for furthering power and discovering the secrets of their enemies. The last Truthwitch was killed, and Safi will do anything to make sure she doesn’t suffer the same fate.
But thanks to a botched plan of her own, on top of which her uncle has the audacity to dump his own agenda—which doesn’t involve Iseult—Safi finds herself launched into a flight for not only her own survival and freedom, but also the future of an entire nation. Never mind that important things like peace and the world are also at stake, one way or another. Safi has her plate loaded to toppling, and it might just be that she’s alone for the hardest parts.
Iseult is different; not only is she lacking as a Threadwitch, she is Nomasti—hated and reviled for her dark hair and moonlight skin. People guard themselves from evil as she passes, afraid and disgusted by her supposed demon-like pallor. Wherever she goes, she knows she must be careful, remain hidden. So when Safi’s plan goes awry, it is Iseult who pays the heftiest price. Suddenly alone, Iseult is forced to flee from a powerful new enemy, one who might track her to the edge of the world. So she does the only thing she can: she goes home.
Only, things have changed since Iseult last entered the Nomasti camp, hidden beyond a treacherous trail to keep outsiders where they belong. And before long, she is forced to run again—this time, for her life. When the girls eventually reunite, everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same again.
Between a betrothal, the hunting gaze of a fabled Voidwitch and the fate of an entire nation resting on Safi, thus begins a thrilling journey to get Safi to where she needs to go, with or without her consent. With a naval Prince desperate to save his people and a Carawen monk who sees more in the girls than she says, Safi and Iseult might not be in the best of hands.
But one thing is certain: Safi must follow through with her uncle’s plan, else everything could be lost. Caught at the heart of a web she only partially understands and hunted from all sides, Safi must place what little trust she can spare in this bad-tempered Prince and his crew, even if that means giving up everything she and Iseult ever wanted.
However, nothing is ever as it seems, and before long, Safi and Iseult discover that their friendship might just be something the world has been waiting for.
Truthwitch is, above all, a story of friendship and the strength of the bonds we form with one another. It seamlessly expresses the struggles of conflict and responsibility, whilst poignantly exploring difficult issues such as racism and how we see the other, whether through Iseult and her race, or through the presumed evil of magic drawn from the Void.
The characters are extremely real and so relatable. They display real emotions in a way that you should find in every single book ever, but actually often don’t. It’s difficult to present real people as real characters, because sometimes that means said characters saying or doing things entirely out of spite or anger or whatever else is the guiding emotion at the time. But Dennard writes each character seamlessly, like she’s been at this game for years and years and that this isn’t her second series. It reads like it’s her seventieth. Exciting and gripping and with a very deep and tangled plot mixed in with the main storyline of Truthwitch, set to continue on into the rest of the Witchlanders novels, it is a solid foundation for the series. Instead of this being “book one” that starts building the world upon which subsequent books will stand and build further, there already is a world here; vast and colourful and engaging. In many ways, Truthwitch doesn’t even read like a first in a series: it feels like the world has always been here and it is so colourfully presented, so richly woven a tapestry, that we might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve always known the Witchlands.
Truthwitch is yet another novel that demonstrates the growing power and quality of YA SFF. With diversity and honesty at its heart, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Truthwitch and its characters. Dennard manages to take a could-be complicated and difficult system of magic and politics and makes it all as familiar to us as if we’ve always been privy to the adventures of Safi, Iseult and those they meet, not only creating a tangible world you could almost reach out and touch, but setting the stage for an epic series to follow, with characters you immediately fall in love with.
This whole book is magic.