Book Description from Goodreads:

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery”, a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Truthwitch, the first book in the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard, was released in both the US and the UK earlier this month. I started hearing that this book was amazing months before it was published and was incredibly excited about reading it. Despite having a fun plotline once it finally got going, I didn’t find the novel particularly memorable since the writing, world, and main characters did not work for me.

I almost didn’t even finish Truthwitch because I thought the first quarter of the book was badly done. It was both action packed and full of exposition as it introduced the world and characters, but neither of these were fleshed out enough to draw me in. I also found some of the dialogue and situations overdone and outright cheesy, like Safi putting on an act to get out of being searched by the guards. She gets away with it because gull droppings always end up landing on her and do at that precise moment—and the guards are too busy laughing at her to be concerned with doing their jobs. Although Safi and Iseult’s close friendship and status as total badasses who fight well together was compelling, it wasn’t enough to carry earlier parts of the book.

Despite their relationship being the only appealing factor for quite awhile, I started to find it more readable after Safi and Iseult separated for a little while. As a noblewoman, Safi is required to go to the emperor’s ball, and it soon becomes clear that something major is going to happen at this event. Though Iseult cannot go with her, she visits her people, which leads to learning more about her family, her magic, and her feelings about both. Their separation ends after both Safi and Iseult end up fleeing danger and then meeting up again, and by this point, I was more interested in finding out what happened to them—but even though I was driven to turn the pages, I found it rather unsatisfying after I finished the book and reflected more on what I’d read.

One reason I didn’t find it satisfying is that there’s a lack of subtlety, and this is especially apparent in the characterization of the four main protagonists. (Although the biggest focus is on Safi and Iseult, there are also parts from the point of view of two others: the Windwitch Prince Merik and the Bloodwitch Aeduan.) All their personalities are rather one dimensional without any nuance and their thoughts tend to come back to the same subjects repeatedly. The situations surrounding these characters are more interesting than the people themselves, and because of this, I actually found I’d be more likely to read the next book to learn more about some secondary characters whose motivations remain unclear than the main characters themselves.

Another issue I had is that the information supplied about the world is both too much and too little: there is a lot of exposition, but it’s light on the details of the world history. I didn’t find the world to be very original or well developed and thought there was an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to the magic. It seemed as though every type of common ability imaginable was present: fire, air, water, earth, blood, lie detection, illusions, and more. Though this has potential to be a fun setting, I didn’t think anything particularly creative was done with it and these powers seemed to exist for plot convenience and cool fight scenes. Additionally, there is a fantasy trope that is very obviously set up and predictable. Of course, not every book needs to have a unique setting or be free from tropes to be excellent, but I felt this was a large issue with this book since it did have other problems as well.

Despite those issues, the last three quarters of Truthwitch did keep me turning the pages to find out what happened next and I’ve had a hard time figuring out whether to rate it a 5 or 6 because of that. Immediately after finishing it, I thought I might like it enough to read the next book even though I wasn’t very impressed by it. However, I’ve changed my mind after thinking about it some more, rereading much of it, and realizing there wasn’t much to keep me invested in it other than finding out more about some of the secondary characters. The first quarter didn’t appeal to me at all, and even after it picked up more, the writing, main characters, and world didn’t do much for me in the end so the final verdict is: it’s okay.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Read an ARC from the UK publisher; rereading for this review was from a finished copy provided by the US publisher.