Hello everyone, and welcome back to Weekly Reads!
This week, I read Truthwitch and Windwitch.
It’s always a drag when I can’t just finish a short series wholesale and tell you how I felt. It’s easy enough to deal with this stuff when I read the first book and it’s not interesting enough for me to continue on, because then it’s easy for me to feel confident that I just wouldn’t recommend the series.
Trilogies—or in this case, quadrilogies, as the Witchlands series is slated for four novels—that open with a lot of potential are a different animal. I really prefer it when I can chew up the whole thing because, personally, I think if a series goes majorly downhill or has an annoying ending, I’d rather not have even started. And that’s what I want to be able to say to others: Look, the premise sounds great on paper, but it’s only gonna get worse.
Which is not to say I feel this way about the Witchlands series. I think Windwitch was a pretty reasonable second instalment—but I’m also really suspicious of this series. These books have a habit of generating more and more plot threads that they don’t resolve. In fact, what does get resolved in each story, plotwise, is very little. Each event that happens tends to delay another confrontation or add another conflict.
What does lend a satisfying feeling to the movement through these books is the character development. Safi, Iseult, Merik, and later Vivia are all learning about who they are, and the choices they are faced with during the events of the books help them to realize what matters to them (and to learn from their mistakes).
Aeduan…I’m not as sure about. He seems interesting, but keeps himself too mysterious (even when we are in his perspective!) to feel as if we see his point of view changing, his resolve hardening. I’m not sure the execution of that character is working through the first two books, exactly, because he’s intriguing through his cool power and strange origin and seeming alignment with a major villain, but he’s also…a perspective character who seems to keep things from the reader deliberately, which feels contrived.
Anyway: representation-wise, these are interesting. There are definitely queer characters and one possibly trans character. There are main characters of various cultures. (It’s loosely-based-on-real-stuff fantasy, so these things are nebulous, but not everyone is described as if they are super white.) All in all, I felt pretty positive about that because honestly? Fantasy has this annoying and senseless tendency to make everyone white and straight as if that is “historically accurate” and as if that matters in an alternate medieval setting where there are dragons.
Plot- and worldbuilding-wise, though—there are a lot of contrivances. Elemental magic. Chosen ones. Mythical beasts that feel thrown in at a whim. Instalove. (It’s not the most annoying case of it, but it’s still…a thing.)
But although the world feels reasonably standard from a fantasy perspective, it does manage to have potential because politics (and war) matter deeply to the main characters, and motivations of rulers and intrigue within and across empires and countries can directly affect the people at the centre of the story—without also feeling completely out of their reach. (The perspective characters are not rulers, but they have roles to play in their own domains.)
Pet peeve, though: the premise the first book was pitched with, the depth of Safi and Iseult’s friendship, is…really more told than shown? I think the vibe is there and I can see it in vague strokes, but the two characters don’t get to interact very much for various reasons over the course of the first two books, so we have to rely on their inner thoughts to get a feel for their friendship, and they don’t do a lot of specific recollecting of their adventures together. This is something I hope the last two books show and develop more, because it was really the selling point of Truthwitch and that fell flat.
(It ended up being a book that had reasonable potential because it stayed fast-paced and not utterly predictable without feeling like it was always taking a cheap shot out of left field—although some things were predictable and some things were cheap shots, like the fact that Safi apparently doesn’t know shit about her uncle. But, I mean, it’s common enough in YA for no one to know anything about their parental figures.)
In any case: I don’t have a ridiculously long post to make about these books today, because I don’t feel that strongly one way or the other about them. Yet. The pacing was definitely really solid, so they stayed entertaining all the way through and that makes them worthy of an above-median rating around here. Also, other than Aeduan who feels like a trying-too-hard-to-be-cool type, I liked the characters and cared about them and their relationships, even as they made some bad choices, so.
While I reserve my right to change my mind if these books go downhill (and reserve my right to decide to like Aeduan when he reveals his tragic backstory, as I’m sure he will and I will, in turn), so far I…I actually feel inclined to be generous. (You can probably attribute half a star to bias: I am not at all sick of elemental magic, and I love alternate-reality Venices.)
How about that.
In any case, I will see you all again next week, and until then, happy reading!