This is the first in a series of reviews I shall be doing throughout the year on newly released science fiction and fantasy reads.
My husband scooped this up on the strength of the recommendation by Robin Hobb on the front cover. Is it deserved?
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.
This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together.
Dennard manages to deftly interleave the full-on action and the necessary information about this layered and interestingly complex world without holding up the narrative pace. However, you need to pay attention throughout because all sorts of small details that are dropped along the way suddenly become a far bigger deal down the line. I love it when authors do that…
As you might expect in any partnership, each girl has strengths the other lacks and while there is some romance developing, the relationship that drive the narrative forward is the bond between the two witches. There is also a varied and interesting supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed the lethally efficient Bloodwitch, Aeduan, who is on their trail. There can be a tendency in YA Fantasy for antagonists to be two-dimensional pantomime villains, whose motives are barely explored – all we know is that they are evil. Dennard hasn’t fallen into that trap and as the story bowls along, we spend a fair amount of time in Aeduan’s viewpoint as he is desperately trying to pursue his own agenda in order to impress his father.
He isn’t the only one with family issues – my other favourite character is Evrane, aunt of the Prince Merik and warrior monk. It is a pleasant change to have a woman of a certain age swinging swords and being embroiled in the thick of the fighting, instead of the one ministering to the wounded and looking after small children. I particularly like her rather sardonic attitude towards her fiery nephew.
The story rackets along at a fair clip, with plenty of adventure and incident throughout. The magic system is logical and certainly comes at a cost – always a plus in my opinion – and the political situation is pleasingly complicated with plenty of jostling for power, with obvious victims from the last international scuffle, which certainly ups the stakes. As this is the first in a series, there are plenty of dangling plotpoints, but what is apparent is that Truthwitch has established this new fantasy series as an entertaining, enjoyable romp packed with incident and engaging characters. I very much look forward to reading the next slice of the adventure.