How do you feel about travel on the high seas? How about magic? Hitting the ground running? Political intrigue? Beautiful, wonderful girl-on-girl friendship? Badass ladies who can lay you flat in a second? Fantasy mythology and lore? An eclectic and expanding cast of characters? And how would you feel about a side of romance with that?
If you think you’d be down for even just one or two of these options, get ready to find all of the above and more abounding in Susan Dennard’s 2015 release, Truthwitch.
From the start, the story of young witches Safiya and Iseult barrels full steam ahead with minimal brakes. We open on the two girls attempting to rob a highway caravan — only for them to realize they’ve rigged a trap for the wrong one. Although Safi and Iseult try to talk their way out of the situation at first, they soon resort to Plan B: kicking some serious ass and hightailing it out of there (by jumping off a cliff into the ocean, of course). Unfortunately, the girls botched highway robbery lands them in more trouble than they planned when they discover that Bloodwitches aren’t just hellish bedtime stories and one is tracking them right back home. Whirlwind escapes, wild political intrigue, an evil curse, a passionate dance scene later — and Safi and Iseult’s adventures are just beginning.
In a world in which it seems everyone has magic, Dennard’s characters are, of course, unique. Safi is a Truthwitch — a witch who can sense if someone is lying, scheming, or bending the truth — and must keep it a secret so no one of importance can use her for their own gain. Iseult is what many would consider a failed Threadwitch, a magic that traditionally allows the witch to recognize the feelings and intentions of those around them and bind the community and more intimate relationships accordingly. An aspect of the story that I enjoyed was that both Safi and Iseult struggle with understanding the powers they possess; though they live in a world that trusts and runs on magic, these two must stand on their own in coming into their powers. This facet of the plot allow readers to catch up on the nature of the world’s magic as well as provides us with fascinating and evolving characters who must grow and learn even during their numerous escapades.
Truthwitch rarely has a quiet or slow moment. Not only do readers get to travel Dennard’s fantasy world by foot, horse, boat, and wind, but they also get to meet an eclectic cast of characters, very few of which carry an insignificant role to the plot. There are the temperamental but dutiful and kind crown prince of a starving land and his shipmates; the three men that raised, trained, and challenged Safi and Iseult to become the kickass ladies they are now; a caring but hardcore priest countered by the obsessive but torn Bloodwitch; queens willing to get their hands dirty and kings and princes aiming to take over the world by any means necessary. I was fascinated by the number of female characters in Truthwitch who were not only important, but empowered mentally and physically as well as in their vocational positions as priests, shaman-like Threadwitches, queens, and ship captains.
The plot is also told from multiple points of view throughout Truthwitch, allowing readers the perspective from Safi, Iseult, Prince Merik, and the Bloodwitch Aeduan. As someone who rarely enjoys multiple points of view in a single text, it did take me a few chapters to get used to jumping character to character. Some of these chapters also felt extraneous since they pulled us out of the main plot following Safi and Iseult. I did, however, greatly appreciate the chapter sequences that alternated between the adventures as well as thoughts and feelings of the two primary characters. The girls’ perspectives accentuate Safi and Iseult’s intensely loyal and steadfast relationship that borders on almost symbiotic. Safi is the wild card of the duo, the one that acts on instinct and formulates the plans and feels more than she thinks. Iseult, on the other hand, is the logical side of the coin: she thinks before she acts and rarely lets emotions of any kind cloud her judgment; when Safi comes up with the plan, Iseult is the one to execute it. The girls play off each other and complete each other. The inclusion of both characters’ perspectives in the narrative accentuates the girls’ individual characters as well as their incredible bond.
Throughout Truthwitch, Dennard fleshes out a world of functional magic, intense friendships, and impending war at the same time that she manages to balance and consider topics such as religion, racial and cultural animosity and violence, (non-explicit and off-screen) sexual abuse, as well as bent and even nonexistent gender roles. As in her Something Strange and Deadly series, Dennard also does not let her romantic subplots commandeer the book’s narrative or the characters. Though at times I did wish I understood aspects of Dennard’s complex world more completely, her world-building and characterizations were enjoyable and unexpectedly refreshing.
When my coworkers asked me what I thought of Truthwitch mid-read, I’m pretty sure my response involved the words “action-packed,” “refreshingly different,” and “ladies kicking butt all over the place.” I told a male coworker to recommend it to any teen girls looking for some turbulent fantasy adventure with unique female role models, which is, as most people who know me know, my ideal book. While there were aspects of Safi and Iseult’s world that could use some fleshing out, I look forward to discovering more of the Witchland universe when the sequel is released. Until then, I’m going to hand out Truthwitch to anyone searching for a wild ride brimming over with magic, love, intrigue, and some pretty cool ladies.