Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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I put off buying this for a long time. Almost a year. I kept hearing about it. The blogosphere, social media, booktube – it kept popping up. I was convinced by the hype, and the blurb, but every time I read the first page in a bookshop, I put it down again. I couldn’t understand it. Two baddass magical women having adventures? Why couldn’t I get myself to read it?

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 to survive.

COME ON. Doesn’t that sound great?

So when it came out in paperback I bit the bullet and bought it. It still took me a little while to read it… I was so anxious I would be disappointed.

I was not.

It was great.

Let me tell you more about it.

Synopsis

Safi and Iseult are witches who have a habit of finding trouble. Iseult is a Threadwitch: she can see the threads that connect people. Safi is something rare, however – a Truthwitch, who can discern truth from lies, and some will stop at nothing to get their hands on her. When they clash with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, they must flee their home.

Adventures ensue.

Things I liked

To be honest I’m not sure what I’m going to put in the things I didn’t like section, but here we go with this one anyway.

Safi and Iseult: you might have seen in my review of Caraval that I wasn’t so convinced by the sisterly relationship at the centre of this – well, this relationship convinced me. It helps that it was mirrored in other sets of characters. Safi and Iseult are each other’s ‘Threadsisters’: connected by something more soul-felt than friendship. Individually, too I loved this pair. Besides the abundant cosplay potential, these are some of the most fun and well-developed characters in YA fantasy that I’ve read recently. Iseult is one of the Nomatsi and experiences a certain amount of racist abuse, but she remains kind and strong, merciful and fierce. Safi is sometimes rash, but warm and able to admit to her mistakes (able to make mistakes – hurrah for nuanced characters), stubborn and unforgiving, but loving, too. Throughout I kept switching between who I thought I preferred…and couldn’t choose.

The love stories: this is a small one because I don’t want to get into it much, but they are satisfying and while they have the YA trope of an inexplicable tug of the heart towards another character, they are also built on engagement between characters.

I also really enjoyed getting to grips with the magic system and the world here. The world-building is terrific and the magic system is inspired and plays on some traditional magic systems to make something that feels quite new.

Things I didn’t like

I realised one of the reasons I put off reading this for so long – it was the hardback cover design.

I know, I know, don’t judge yada yada… but it just didn’t convince me! It wasn’t bad or anything. I wasn’t drawn in by it. I actually liked it, which is the weird thing. But it felt…wrong somehow. This is what it looks like, anyway.

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Let me know if you figure out why I had an adverse reaction to it.

Should I read this?

Yes, of course you should. Was that not clear? Yes, please read it. I want more people I know to read it. And I just realised it has an endorsement from Robin Hobb on the cover, so you don’t have to just take my word for it.

“This book will delight you.”

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The Book Depository

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval-150x225‘Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems…’

Throughout last year, this was probably the debut I heard about most. It was all over social media, at YALC we were constantly being alerted to contests to win proof copies. This is a book that was published really, really well. I was not lucky enough to win an advance copy, but when I finally picked it up I did understand why so much weight had been thrown behind it.

Synopsis

Scarlett has lived on her tiny isle of Trisda all her life, protecting her sister Tella and trying to survive their ruthless, abusive father. From a young age she writes to Legend, the enigmatic man at the centre of the mystical Caraval, a travelling, week-long event, begging him to come to visit their isle. When she turns eighteen, and she writes to tell him she is getting married and if he was planning to finally come to Trisda then he shouldn’t bother, he finally writes back.

Legend sends her an invitation to join him at Caraval as his special guest, promising adventure, intrigue, danger, and self-discovery.

When Scarlett and Tella arrive, Tella vanishes, and Scarlett must solve the riddles of the Caraval and navigate its winding world to find her sister before the last day of Caraval.

Remember, it’s only a game…

Things I liked 

I suppose the thing that stands out most is Caraval itself. Garber embraces the carnivalesque and adds her own twists. There are fortune tellers and tricksters, strange and magical rules, a Carousel of Roses, a Glass Tavern, and the prevailing sense that nothing is as it seems. Scarlett and her unlikely guide cannot trust anyone, even each other. One scene I feel is representative of the weirdness and originality of the Caraval world involves Scarlett paying for an item with days of her life. This kind of thing happens quite often in fantasy writing, but it’s not so often they take the days there and then.

There is some excellent YA romance writing in this. It does all the right things – it’s a bit dangerous and there’s some mistrust, but there are acts of kindness and loyalty, too. Mostly it’s just quite sexy, which is always a winner.

The mystery of Legend himself. Ever present yet inaccessible and unseen, Legend watches over Caraval and controls all the players. There are stories about him, his life, how long he has lived and whether he has done some awful things. If he is truly a magician or a fraud, if he is a good man or a villain. Scarlett and Tella are both drawn to different sides of him. I love a character like that.

Can I say the cover design? The designs of the proofs and the finished books are GORGEOUS. In the UK edition of the hardback, there are four foiled designs concealed under the already stunning dust jacket.

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Things I didn’t like

I love the idea of the sisterly love at the centre of this, however I didn’t feel totally convinced by Scarlett and Tella’s relationship all the time. I liked both of their characters separately, I liked them a lot. But I don’t know, something just…didn’t feel right.

Along the same lines, their dad felt a little two-dimensional. There was an attempt toward the end to humanize him a bit, but ultimately I wasn’t convinced.

 

Should I read this?

I was going to give this 3 or 4 stars on Goodreads at first. I thought it was good, atmospheric, and enticing, though a bit flawed. Then I realized I spent over an hour in an increasingly tepid bath just to race to the end, so I bumped up the rating.

So if you’re looking for an addictive YA adventure with romance and mystery and a wonderful carnivalesque setting, then you could definitely do worse than to spend a few hours lost in these pages.

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The Book Depository

You can buy the book here.

I am officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, so I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.

To keep up with my reading progress you can follow me on Goodreads, here.