The Witchlands #1. Author: Susan Dennard.
Threadsisters Safiya and Iseult are in trouble, yet again. In attempting to hold up a thief on the road, they caught the wrong wagon and antagonized the wrong person. With a Bloodwitch on their trail they have to flee the city, for Safiya’s talent of truthwitchery is a dangerously rare secret, and there are men who would kill to possess her.
Safiya flees to the Court, where her relatives should shelter her; but instead they use her in their plans, declare her betrothed to the emperor, and send her off again. The ship she and Iseult land on may help them escape the Bloodwitch, but Safiya and Iseult are still going to have to push their limits to survive the hot-tempered prince, the seafoxes, and the determined assassin who’s still on their trail.
This rich new fantasy weaves an intriguing world of diverse cultures on the brink of war and a magic/mythos system to be explored without a single info-dump, allowing things to come up naturally and trusting, for once, the reader’s capability of putting things together. There’re still many questions unanswered, but this is only the first book.
I loved the tight relationship between the two main characters. These threadsisters are so close they fight in synchronization, can send encoded messages through simple goodbyes, and trust each other above all else. Yes, Safiya is the reckless one who drags them both into trouble, causing hardships for Iseult – but she also proves her willingness to do anything for her threadsister when Iseult is injured. It’s just another aspect of the strength of their relationship that Iseult understands her.
There was an intriguing hint of depth around one of the villains, the Bloodwitch. At first a completely emotionless villain, when we begin to see from his point of view it quickly becomes clear this is not a paper-cut assassin, but a person carved into shape by life-events. This author knows how to promise character development without giving it; we can only hope that her next book fulfills.
The only piece that rang false was the relationship between Merik and Safiya. It started over-quickly, strangely, and developed fast although neither would admit it. The emphasis on strong physical attraction has me worried. I loved the rest of this book, and look forward to the next, but one hopes that Dennard isn’t going to do anything regrettable with our characters.
Sexual content: Character who can see emotion sees lust. There’s an implication that a man has been blackmailing a woman into lying with him. One character says to another “Promise me you’ll consider a tumble in the sheets while I’m away.” One kiss. Strong physical attraction between a man/woman riding the same horse.
Language: 22 scatological terms, 22 hell, 18 d***, 6 derogatory terms. Some use of ‘rut / rutting’ as an adjective; for ex. “what the rut”, “she looked rutting gorgeous”.
Violence: Sword fight. Several characters stab a man, kick, and use strike air to insure he’s dead. Mot rough-handles women. One character shoots another through the arm. A man is flung back by a (magical) wind, knocked unconscious. A man’s spine is broken in a fall, then he’s stabbed in the chest (swift healing powers). An air-witch stops someone from breathing until she goes unconscious. Hand-to-hand fighting first with cutlass, latter half without weapons, no blood is shed. Character throws two knives into a predator’s eye. The predator also ends up with a knife in it’s throat and forehead. Various “cleaved” men beheaded and killed.