Hello, and welcome back to another “Chelscey was real late to the party on this one” review. Yes, I am finally diving into the Witchlands with “Truthwitch” and yes, it’s my first book by Susan Dennard though I have followed her and her writing advice for years now. And coming out of this book, I can finally appreciate the “it’s me” and not the book feelings. Because “Truthwitch” is such a firm YA novel with its chosen one tropes and bonded pairs, and that’s great, but not for me as an actual adult anymore. It’s kind of nice knowing that that’s just a problem with me and not Safi and her witchery, so I can remove that element and really decipher what did and didn’t work for me.
This first book in the series sets up an immense world. One where there seems to be a new, and only slightly nuanced version, of a witch almost every other page. Honestly though, for a world where it seems like the magic users were on the losing end of a war that led to a 20-year truce, there’s a lot of witches, and some are unique one-of-a-kind witches, but there’s a lot of those one-off witches too, so it’s like… magic is just all over the place. And when you have Bloodwitches like Aeudan (who is my favorite already, no shame) it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about concerning Safiya and her truthwitch powers. They just doesn’t seem all that powerful compared to others, and certainly not a big deal politically for all these nations to suddenly be clamoring for her and having her in the middle of all these political games she and her Threadsister are amazingly oblivious to. Which means, yes, the plot mainly happens TO these girls, Safi and Iseult, for the vast majority of the book rather than them being active participants. The powers that be have placed these girls in the middle of plots and political intrigue, so when the action starts happening, they have no idea why. So, for most of the book, it’s just them running away rather than actively affecting the plot itself. That changes a bit toward the end, but honestly, for the first half (well, over half) I was a bit frustrated that these girls weren’t more active in their own future and plans.
It did take a hot minute to get into the book, too. The world building is massive, and Dennard plops you into it in such a way where I genuinely thought I skipped a book that would have explained this world and its powers and connections. Which may be a problem for real young adult readers. It’s not a matter of the book being slow or hard to get into, but the story starts with a lot of terminology and political structure that is meant to be explained through the context of the situation and story, but that takes a bit to really get, too because of, again, all the different types of witches you get introduced to almost every other chapter. It sets the foundation for the larger series, and I get that, but I also don’t like feeling confused about a character’s world for half of the book, either.
All that being said, Dennard can write (even if this book over used italics)! All the characters (and there are a lot) felt distinct from one another and I loved the diversity of her cast. I especially loved the strong friendships in this book, especially the one between Safiya and Iseult. It was so refreshing to read about these two girls so furiously devoted to each other in a platonic way, it was genuinely beautiful. I am most curious about Aeudan and his story though, which maybe I shouldn’t be? But here we are. So even with my issues of the fragmented magic system, and me finally realizing I may not enjoy YA as much as I once did, I’m intrigued enough to keep going with the series, which I have been assured gets better. But that’s why I am giving “Truthwitch” a pretty solid 3 stars, some of it was a me issue, but not everything. Too bad it took me so long to read this that now my paperback won’t match the rest of the books… Oh well!
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