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.
If, like me, you have read her Strange series, you know Dennard has skill in building up a universe, amazing characters and an adventure-filled plot. (That the series had a sad ending is another matter altogether) Her new series takes us to the Witchlands, where there are witches that can control elements and lots of kingdoms fighting for power. The world of Witchlands incorporates elemental magic, mostly, but there are other new kinds of magic, like Isuelt’s Threadwitchery, Safi’s Truthwitchery and Aeduan’s Bloodwitchery. The magic is fed by Origin pools – wells that contain the source of magic but which have run out in the past few centuries. Which of the pools feeds the Threadwitchery and Truthwitchery is not made clear, however, and I wish the build would have been more clear about that.
As the novel switches back and forth between Safi, Isuelt and Merik, we get a view of how magic is seen across their lands. For Safi, her Truthwitchery is something to be hidden as it would start a bid for her power (whether that is really useful is to be seen, though). Merik’s Tidewitchery helps him be a great sailor, but he is a prince first and is in a rivalry with his elder sister for power. Isuelt, meanwhile, left her nomadic clan as she couldn’t keep up with their rules and finds a family in Safi. Her magic (to see the life force and bonds in the universe) is revered but she is not – people draw away from her when they see her ethnicity. Safi’s power is a driving force of the conflict in the book – each of the empires are yearning to have her under their control, while she wants to be free of them. However, she grows to be selfless and gives up her freedom for the greater good.
A big positive of this novel was the strong bond Safi and Isuelt share – they are Threadsisters. Thread families are a different kind of concept, as in they are bonds made of compatibility and choice rather than blood, which definitely adds a layer of complexity when it comes to loyalty. So far, it seems Thread families are considered higher than blood ones, but where it leads is to be seen in future books. Aeduan makes a nice villain (at least one of them) as a witch-hunter who is utterly focused on the hunt. His loyalty is a fickle thing, though, and I am interested in how it plays out in consequent books. Merik is a matyr-hero kind of character, but he has a sense of responsibility to his people. In fact, most characters in this book are shades of grey, with their motives ranging anywhere from protection of family to protection of empire – notable exception is the Cartorran emperor; he can burn in hell for all I care, trying to marry a girl three times younger than him!
Overall, a strong series starter – I have high hopes for this one. The world and its canon just needs to be more defined and not all over the place.