Coven Read: Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch

21414439Well, we said we’d discuss Truthwitch in January and now it’s February. What can we say? Life happens. Still! It’s Truthwitch Tuesday and we’re ready to talk Witchlands with you.

Remember, ahead lie spoilers. If you haven’t read Truthwitch yet, don’t read on! 

Allison: One of the things that I really loved about Truthwitch is that it felt familiar and fresh at the same time. The alter-verse aspect of the Witchlands and its correlations to our ideas about Europe evoke a similar feel to Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and there’s a certain element of Dennard’s magical framework that calls Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass to mind.

Nicola: I loved the European feel to the world! A lot of high fantasy settings are vaguely pre-industrial/feudal European, but the Witchlands feels more historical European than ‘Standard Mediaeval Fantasy Setting’. While I love reading about fantasy worlds that are based on other world cultures, as a European reader I do have a soft spot for a well-constructed European-esque world, and the Witchlands hits the spot (though I wouldn’t complain if future books expanded the world into Middle Eastern or African AUs!). I particularly liked Veñaza City; I visited Venice last year and fell in love with the city, so it’s no surprise I appreciated seeing a fantasy version of it in the Witchlands.

Alyssa: I’m not sure if you two saw this youtube video in which Susan Dennard explains that the Witchlands are loosely based on Imperial Europe. Her fascination with the small republics that were able to stay independent during centuries of war between the Venetian, Austrian-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires greatly inspired her writing this series. I love that her alternate Imperial Europe includes witcheries–which significantly influence political and social structures.

Allison: Yeah, the idea that magic influences everything from the personal to the political (and global, in the case of the Cahr Awen) makes a lot of sense to me — of course if there are people with all this immense power running around, it’s going to shape everything about the world. I’m enjoyed the fact that magic wasn’t just a feature of Dennard’s worldbuilding, but the force that defines it. It’s also a very cool idea that magic is “real” in that there are actual threads connecting people, emotions and interpersonal interactions.

Nicola: What did you think of the whole Threadsister/Thread-family thing? Personally, I loved the focus on Safi and Iseult’s platonic friendship; so often in YA the most significant relationship for the protagonist is romantic, which I love, but it’s so nice to see a strong non-romantic relationship.

Allison: It’s probably no surprise that I love the idea of Safi and Iseult’s relationship being the primary focus. I like that Dennard didn’t hold back about it being the primary relationship either. I love the idea that they are more than friends, that there’s a “more than friends” that isn’t romantic. I think it’s so normalized to see stories where two men have a strong homosocial relationship, but not so much with women. It’s one of my favorite things about the book. I love the idea that Thread-family is built in so many different kinds of ways– anger, love, compassion, just basic human stuff. It’s a really cool idea that there’s a tangible way to understand how we’re bound together.

Alyssa: I love this concept too! As you both point out, romance is the dominant relationship in most YA (and fiction in general). And in fantasy, in particular, there’s the tradition of bromances having centerstage. So what makes Truthwitch special and very refreshing is that the Threadsisters’ friendship is the most important relationship. I also really like that Merik and Kullen are Threadbrothers, making male friendship important too.

Nicola: I don’t know if either of you ever read Something Strange and Deadly (if not, you should!), but in that series, the idea of a ‘found’ family is treated as a valuable and precious thing. Eleanor loves her mother and brother, but there are complexities to those relationships that aren’t found in the Spirit-Hunters’ unwavering support for each other. I have no doubt that if the Spirit-Hunters lived in the Witchlands they’d be bound by the same Threads that link Safi and Iseult, Merik and Kullen. It’s interesting to see how Dennard follows on the same theme in Truthwitch but adds a magical component to it.

Alyssa: I love that Dennard created the phrase Mhe verujta, which means in Nomatsi “trust me as if my soul were yours,” and how valuable this concept is for romantic love (Heart-Threads) as well as non-romantic love.  

AllisonMhe verujta got me right in the feels, because I think we all want to feel that way with someone, whether it’s non-romantic love or romantic love. Dennard has a knack for exploring non-romantic relationships in a way that I really appreciate. That the bond between Thread family is more than other relationships was especially powerful because I do think in most fiction that romantic and familial relationships are portrayed as the most influential and powerful. It’s especially intriguing to me in Truthwitch that she decided to make these bonds tangible (and visible to Threadwitches).

Nicola: Yeah, I really liked that there’s a palpable quality to these relationships in the Witchlands; it contrasts the way that fantasy in particular often focusses on shared blood or marital alliances. The concept of Threads is one of my favourite parts of the worldbuilding, not just in the way they represent relationships but also in the paradoxical way that Threadwitches are constantly barraged by other people’s emotions yet expected to suppress their own. I’m excited to see more of the Threads in the next book!

Allison: Me too. It’s cool to think about how the Threads will play into the larger idea of the Origin Wells and the Cahr Awen. I saw the reveal about Safi and Iseult being the Cahr Awen coming, but I’m really interested in how the narrative itself played out. Dennard has managed to fit quite a lot of complex worldbuilding into one novel, especially given the ensemble narrative, which I thought added a lot to my understanding of the Witchlands, overall.

Nicola: I really liked the ensemble narrative. They’re hard to pull off, but each character’s motivation, and the resulting tension and conflict, felt so real and important to me. Merik clashes with Safi over Iseult’s safety because he’s trying to save his people, while Safi cares most about her Threadsister, and even though I favoured saving Iseult I could completely appreciate both of their perspectives. Aeduan’s probably the POV character for whom we get the least sense of underlying motivation, but there’s still some indication of family loyalty (or perhaps fear) that drives him to pursue Safi.

Alyssa: Yes, I like the ensemble narrative too and I think it works well overall in Truthwitch. I also like that we don’t know Aeduan as well as the other POV characters. He remains a bit of a mystery in terms of his motivation and loyalty. He’s a “bad boy” who may be “good”–especially if he fall in love with Iseult. I really enjoyed his complex feelings towards Iseult because of his “life-debt” and his confusion when it comes to trust and loyalty. Will he follow through on his sworn duty to protect the Cahr Awen or will he try to capture the Truthwitch for his father?

Allison: I found Aeduan incredibly intriguing. I feel like we got a pretty good sense of who some of the other characters are, but not as much with him. I think we’ll see much more of him in the next book. I thought the end was brilliant, by the way. It was one of those endings that blew the story open entirely. I’m really excited to see what happens next. I get the impression that we’re going to see a whole new side to Safi and that really excites me.

Alyssa: Yes, Aeduan is intriguing. I love that his witchery makes him very vulnerable and yet it’s such a powerful witchery. The Monastery protects him from a world that wants to kill him because he is a Bloodwitch; yet, he did not choose that life and is not a true believer in the Cahr Awen. He seems to be the most complex and conflicted character in this series. Which is why I’m really curious to find out what he does in the next books.

I look forward to seeing more of Vaness and the Empire of Martok, too, in Windwitch. And Safi. She really embraces her powers at the end of Truthwitch when she realizes that she “can do anything.” She demonstrates such bravery and strength when she gives herself over to Vaness in exchange for a trade agreement that benefits Merik and Nubrevna. I wonder how she and Vaness will get along in the next book. How will their relationship develop? Will they become friends? How will her time with Vaness and in Martok change her and her relations with Iseult and Merik? The ending definitely left me wanting to know more.

Nicola: Yes! The ending was everything the ending of a first book in a series should be. It wrapped up some storylines and opened up some others. I don’t even really count it as a cliffhanger, because it’s a natural resolution to the core conflict that drives the book (maybe not the resolution we expected, but not one we didn’t expect, either), and I expect it will form a major part of the conflict in the second book, rather than being something that gets resolved quickly in chapter 1. I’m so excited to see the fallout for Safi and Vaness, Iseult and Merik.

Allison: Needless to say, we’re looking forward to finding out what happens next in Windwitch, set to publish in 2017. Thanks for joining us today and let us know what you thought of Truthwitch in the comments or on Facebook!

In book magic and mayhem,

Allison, Alyssa and Nicola

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