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.
All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom. But 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.
Year of Publication: 2016
Publisher: Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Page Count: 484
Spoiler-Free Review: Yes
As soon as this book came out in 2016, I knew that it would be the sort of novel that I would want to pick up. From the synopsis alone, we are treated to witches, power struggles, emperors and mercenaries – all things that are generally in the recipe for a pretty great fantasy read. Unfortunately for me, Truthwitch fell far short of most of my expectations, to the point where I seriously considered DNFing it on three occasions. As a whole, it was not without its positives (which is what I will go through last as I’d rather end on a high point), however I could not escape the fact that overall it was a confusing, disjointed and drawn out read.
1) The world-building was so confusing
One of the things that I love the most about fantasy is the fact that you can, as a general rule, expect to be greeted by a rich and developed world that the characters are forced to explore in order to find something/someone or escape something/someone. Truthwitch undoubtedly had that… I just don’t feel like I was ever let in on it.
From the very beginning the reader is bombarded with the names of languages, places and people without much explanation of them or their place in the story. From the beginning to the end of the book, I had to keep on flicking back and forwards to work out which empire was doing what, and whether or not they were on the sides of the protagonists. Even now, I’m still not too sure how each one fits together. On top of that, the descriptions of the actual history of this world were intermittent at best, so I constantly felt that I didn’t really know where anyone’s motives were coming from. This was undoubtedly the main reason I almost didn’t finish the book.
2) There was no slowing down in pace (yet the book still felt too long?)
This point is entirely a matter of personal preference, but I am not generally a fan of heavily plot-driven novels. I like it when the protagonists reach a convenient point to stop and regroup in order to let the reader in on what is happening and to develop the characters more fully.
There are no such moments in the entirety of Truthwitch’s 484 pages. The entire novel is structured as chase-fight-chase-fight, with virtually nothing else in between. I know that a lot of people would enjoy this as the action never really stops, however this just became very repetitive to me, hence the book feeling like it could have been about 150 pages shorter, or at least those pages could have been used differently. Given that these sequences were so frequent, I often lost track of who Safi and Iseult were actually running from at which point, and where they were running to. I genuinely had no clue what was happening at all for the first 120-or-so pages, and this made it very difficult for me to force myself to keep picking the book up.
3) Some language choices were… unconventional
I feel like the only way of showing this is with two examples:
“He latched a penetrating stare on Gretchya, and in a voice made of mudslides, added, “Do. Not. Leave.” – p129
“Aeduan sniffed the air, knowing his eyes swirled red as he did so, and latched on to the man’s blood-scent. Salty kitchens and baby’s breath” – p218
There were several instances within the book where I felt that the language choices actively detracted from what was happening in the situation – I’m not sure how anyone can smell like a salty kitchen, but apparently they can. In general, the writing style was fine and did the job of telling the story, but I just couldn’t get past the fact that in some parts the description was either not believable, or convoluted to the point that I didn’t always know exactly what was going on.
1) Safi and Iseult’s relationship was unique and inspiring
One of the major areas of praise I’ve heard for Truthwitch is the relationship between Safi and Iseult – two “Threadsisters” who fight side-by-side with absolute loyalty. I can absolutely see why this relationship is so popular. As a whole, the fantasy genre is often dominated by either male protagonists, or single female protagonists who don’t always have a whole lot of female friends. This novel completely turns that trope upside down.
Throughout the novel, both Safi and Iseult’s primary motives are to protect each other, and they constantly display a deepness of friendship that is always sorely lacking between female characters who are usually placed against each other instead. I found it inspiring to see the lengths that both women were willing to go to for each other, but I also found that they complemented each other perfectly. Safi’s impulsiveness aligned with Iseult’s carefulness, while Iseult’s introspective nature sat nicely alongside Safi’s general lack of a filter. All in all, they made the ideal duo to lead this novel.
2) The ending saved the book
For the vast majority of the book, I was reading because I wanted to finish it and not because it was keeping my attention. I was going through it laboriously, waiting for something to be explained. For the final 100 pages, however, I did want to know what was going to happen next. One of the major plot twists took me completely by surprise, and the ending was a good mixture of leaving some parts tied up and some parts completely open for the next book.
In general, this novel sounds like one that would have been perfect for me – but one that just had too many flaws to live up to my expectations. I found it to be unbelievable (as in, more so that fantasy usually is), slow, and above all, just so, so confusing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be reading future sequels.
Rating: 2/5 stars
I’d really, really love to hear your thoughts if you have read Truthwitch – did you have the same criticisms as me? Did you think Safi and Iseult made good protagonists? If you haven’t yet read it, are you planning to in the near future?