March 11, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Safiya fon Hasstrel is a Truthwitch, who can discern the truth in all situations, and of the upper class. Though she usually doesn't look or act like it, as her uncle has drank away much of the family wealth in Venaza City, Safi was raised to move in the highest echelons as a Domna of Cartorra, one of the nations of the Witchlands... Safi shrugs this off; as the last of the Truthwitches, she knows herself in truth to be a political pawn in the wrong hands. For that reason, her uncle has taught her to protect herself, and to test every situation. Wariness and weaponry doesn't play as well in the glittering court, so Safi feels she only fits in with her friend Iseult det Midenzi, a Threadwitch who can see the ties between people, and where their hearts are inclined. Iseult's magic is tribal Nomatsi, and certain religious factions throughout the Witchlands believe such native hedgewitchery should be stamped out, and only the legitimate witcheries should be left. Others believe that Threadwitches are useful enough to be sold to the highest bidder... However, Iseult is safe, as long as she keeps her high contrast pale skin and dark hair covered, and stay under the radar. Of course, with a Threadsister like Safi, that's basically impossible.

Privileged, impetuous, and overfond of her snark and her sword, Safi is always dragging Iseult into one mess after another, but this one -- a revenge-heist against a Guildmaster gone terribly wrong -- boils over into true danger. A monk of the Carawen, a Bloodwitch, whose rare, rare talent was meant to be used in the service of the now vanished Cahr Awen, now works as a mercenary for the Guildmaster. He sees only two witches he can sell to the highest bidder. The chase is on -- and then turns personal. It seems like this monk is trying to kill them. The only thing left to do is run.

Observations: It's rare that I review very popular and saturate-the-market hyped novels, and I'm not sure why this one crossed my path except that I read the first chapter months before it was out, and I was stuck wanting to know "Did they get away?" so well played, market-saturaters. Of course, had I know how often the pair would be chased, I probably wouldn't have picked up the book -- being chased is a lot of the novel. A LOT. If you like adventures which don't go quite as deep into the feels, because the action is nonstop, this one's for you.

My biggest criticism of this fast-paced novel is the girls' friendship, which is meant to be the pivot on which the book rests. I wanted to like Safi and Iseult's adventures more, in a buddy-movie type of way, in which the deep friendship was epic and the main point of the novel was staying together because of that deep friendship... but I just couldn't. Because while we're coaxed to believe in the Threadsister/Truthwitch bond here, real friends don't make repeated impetuous and stupid decisions that endanger their sisters. They just don't. Ninety percent of the trouble that Safi and Iseult get into is because Safi just can't not do something dumb. Cheat at cards? Threaten someone? Steal something? Boast and call attention to herself? Every. Time. And, while the pair have the good fortune to usually be bailed out of their troubles, Safi seems genuinely unable to do anything but further endanger the people attempting to help her by insisting - fighting tooth, nail, blood, and bone - she not to be separated for five minutes from Iseult. It's as if there's some medial reason - like they share an organ - that they can't be across the room. Snarkiness aside, I guess I didn't buy the depths of the friendship; we're told of this great affection more than shown. The requirements of mutual respect, trustworthiness and empathy aren't met by an obsessive need to be next to one another. Though Safi finally begins to get this through her head toward the end of the novel, it was too late for me to thaw any toward her.

This is the first book in a series, so I am less vocal about my issues with worldbuilding -- there are a lot of political issues, minor characters who pop up for less than the length of a chapters, and a few strings which are twined together that just get laid down which I KNOW will be picked up in subsequent volumes -- but I found some of the "whys and hows" a bit muddy, and honestly, not knowing may cause some readers to put the book down or find the beginning to be a bit slow and befuddling.

Conclusion: Though less characterization in favor of more action isn't my cup of tea, this will be catnip for someone just coming off of an emotionally involved novel. Characters all seem multidimensional, and it's apparent that there's more than meets the eye to many of them, especially Safi's uncle, Merik's aunt, and the Bloodwitch. Safi is prickly, snarky, and fast with a sword - and Iseult is always trying to stay calm, calm her down, and control the situation, just like your best friend is usually trying to keep you out of a fight. There's a lot of action packed into this novel, but if you're willing to hang in there through slightly uneven pacing and some not-fully-explained political structuring, you'll find yourself starting off on a tremendous adventure to ...somewhere.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

2 comments: said...

I liked the multidimensional characters in this book. Sometimes, you really want to see something behind the curtain, and Susan gives this opportunity. Thanks for the substantial review!
Jess (mystery lover)

Sarah Stevenson said...

I saw this one in the e-library too! Heh.