Quick summary: Sisters before misters, *KAPOW*!
Try this series if you like: Sara Raasch, Renée Ahdieh, Kendare Blake and Laini Taylor.
This book is 479 pages of brilliant, completely enjoyable writing. You have to take this opening novel of The Witchlands series as it is – a light fantasy with sparks of romance, high-octane adventure and a sister-bond between two female witches. It is fun, easy to read, and puts friendship above all else, which is a nice angle that you don’t always see in YA Fantasy.
Character-wise, we have some interesting ones in this mixed bag. Safi and Iseult are the two main female characters and they are Threadsisters, a bond stronger than those between families. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and the fact that the twenty-year treaty keeping the peace between the countries in Susan Dennard‘s world is swiftly coming to an end leads us to the conclusion that these girls will somehow be heavily involved in what’s to come. Both Safi and Iseult bring something completely different to the table. They are individuals, but both work together, and this is what catapults them from arguably run-of-the-mill YA characters to something vastly more interesting.
They are joined in the ensemble cast by Merik, Safi’s steamy love interest and Prince of Nubrevna, who is desperate to ensure his country doesn’t collapse into poverty and starvation after the costly wars. Merik is earnest and has good intentions at heart, but there were many times where I did want to reach into the book and throttle him.
We also have Aeduan, who threatens to fall into the brooding-bad-boy trope, but deftly swerves away into a well thought out character with emotional complexity and multi-layered villainy. He is definitely a key one to watch for character development, and also for potential romances… (I’m looking at you, Iseult!)
I got on with the writing of relationships in a similar way to how I got on with Laini Taylor – there were similarities in the dynamics between relationships, both romantic and platonic. This was an aspect of Taylor’s writing I really enjoyed, and this enjoyment translated into Dennard’s writing as well.
Dennard’s world-building has had mixed reviews from what I can see, as others think while there is some vague background information, we don’t get to deeply dive into the Witchlands with elongated descriptive writing. We are asked to grasp the geography, culture and politics pretty quickly, and sometimes you do have to reread sections to fully grasp the implication it has on your understanding of the world. From this angle, I did find it a slow start and if you want world building to have a stronger presence than action or plot, then this isn’t the book for you. While detailed world-building is usually something I really enjoy, I didn’t find I needed any more than Dennard gave. Her writing is full to the brim with fast-paced action and “dynamic storytelling” (Publishers Weekly), so to slow the pace down with too much descriptive writing would take away from what Dennard’s writing is all about.
We want kick-assery, magic, deep-rooted friendships and some “tense (tense!) romance(s)” (Susan Dennard), and that is what we get! What’s not to love?! I say give this book a read.
Susan Dennard also has a really good blog/newsletter, and for any potential writers/enjoyers of literature, I recommend giving it a follow here!