‘Truthwitch’ is the start of a high fantasy series right on the border between YA and adult. Its action packed with well fleshed out characters, strong relationships, immense worldbuilding, and generally everything you need for a superb fantasy novel. Like all fantasy stories, it takes a little while to adjust to the setting, but once you’re in it grips you tight and doesn’t let you go.
Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble – but after a clash with a powerful Guildmaster and terrifying Bloodwitch, their lives are upended. Forced to flee their Venaza City home, the Threadsisters find a reluctant ally in Prince Merik – who sees an opportunity to bring trade to his starving people once more. However, the Bloodwitch is hot on their heels – and Safiya, a rare and unregistered Truthwitch, must avoid capture at all costs, lest she be used in the age-old struggle between Empires. With war on the horizon, the friends will stop at nothing for their freedom – and to keep their power out of enemies hands.
The absolute highlight of this book is the friendship between Safiya and Iseult. These two young women are not related by blood, but they’re the most important people in each other’s lives, sacrificing everything for each other. In many ways, they’re quite different, but they compliment each other like two halves of a whole. Its lovely reading a fantasy that celebrates friendship, and paints deep emotional bonds without forcing them to be romantic.
There are four primary perspectives – Safiya, Iseult, Merik, and the Bloodwitch Aeduan – and each is engaging, bringing a new element to the story. The alternating is done well, with no leaps that throw the reader out of the story or distract from a sideplot – each furthers the narrative and gradually makes the worldbuilding more clear. Iseult and Aeduan have the most mystery, with clear potential for development in subsequent entries – but the ending twist also ensures a prominent role for Safiya and Merik.
The worldbuilding is excellently done. The reader is launched straight into the action, with no exposition or explanation. There’s a little initial confusion, but the basic concepts quickly become clear: three main Empires, coming to the end of a twenty-year Treaty which ended an ancient war (but greatly favoured one side), and each containing elemental witches. Witches powers can be specific (Voicewitches, which can send messages to each other over great distances) or broad (Waterwitches, with control over the element of water), and are more common in certain empires – Marstock has an affinity for fire, whilst Nubrevna has mastery over air. These powers are tied to ancient wells – one for each element – which currently lie dormant, waiting for the next Cahr Awen: a pair of matched witches which bring balance and harmony. The concepts are simple, and woven seamlessly into the narrative, allowing the reader to understand just enough as they go along whilst maintaining an immense sense of mystery.
The plot is clever, twisty, and with multiple elements of mystery that will likely only be explained in subsequent books. Dennard does brilliantly at sliding in hints, and whilst some are obvious to the seasoned fantasy reader, that doesn’t make the concept any less smart.
The romance is one of the weaker parts of the book. There’s a large element of insta-love – and whilst that somewhat fits with the concept of Threads between people that is central to the magic of the story, it isn’t the most satisfying to read. Admittedly, Dennard does brilliantly at creating chemistry and making the attraction believable, but it’s still a bit too fast to be fully convincing.
Overall, ‘Truthwitch’ is an excellent addition to the high fantasy genre, and fills the gap between YA and adult fantasy with aplomb. Recommended for all older YA fans and those looking for an entertaining fantasy story.
Published by Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Paperback: 23rd February 2016