Truthwitch: A Witchlands Novel

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Truthwitch: A Witchlands Novel Book Poster Image
Strong female leads navigate a confusing magic world.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Magical abilities are tied to the elements (earth, wind, fire), the body (blood), and other aspects of nature (tides). Witches also have a sixth sense about others' "threads," or underlying emotions and connections to others. Readers can think about how witches and magical creatures in other books harness and use their power and what kinds of extrasensory powers they possess. What is unique here and what sounds familiar?

Positive Messages

Trusting your own strengths and following a life path that you find meaningful are two big themes. Plus, the main characters are Threadsisters, who have a bond that's as loyal as it gets. Bravery stems from this loyalty -- doing anything to protect another, no matter the harm to yourself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Safi and Iseult are loyal "Threadsisters" who risk their lives for each other. They both start out as teens without much direction or ambition -- except as petty thieves. They're meant for something greater and begin to realize their potential. When Safi decides what matters to her, she realizes her own power and tries to use it for good.

Violence

Much sparring with swords, poison-tipped arrows, throwing knives, and even a giant iron flail. Some heads roll, some blood spurting described. One sad death of a protagonist; another protagonist is almost hanged by an angry mob of zealots and another time almost dies of slow poisoning from an arrow. Dozens of witches die by "cleaving," a process where bodies bubble up from the inside and they end up with a rabies-like strength and loss of self before dropping dead. Some characters are gravely injured but can heal themselves or are healed in magical waters. Talk of the last Truthwitch being beheaded because of her powers.

Sex

One steamy scene of kissing/clawing/hands on bare skin and a skirt waistband being pulled -- it's interrupted right there.

Language

"S--t" almost a dozen times. All else -- such as "bitch" and "ass" -- used very sparingly.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of wine-drinking at a party. Safi gets a flute of some kind in her hand but is more interested in the food. Safi's uncle is known as an alcoholic and seems to drink a lot before a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Truthwitch is a complex romantic fantasy from Susan Dennard (the Something Strange and Deadly series). The Truthwitch, Safi, and her loyal "Threadsister," Iseult, are on the run for most of the book. They get in a number of skirmishes involving swords, knives, poison arrows, and even a giant iron flail. Some heads roll, and some blood spurting is described. There's one sad death of a protagonist. Another protagonist is almost hanged by an angry mob of zealots and, another time, almost dies of slow poisoning from an arrow. Dozens of witches die by "cleaving," a process where bodies bubble up from the inside and end up with a rabies-like strength and loss of self before dropping dead. It's not all chase-scene action, though. There's one steamy romantic moment cut off at kissing and some groping, and there's a party with a little drinking. Swearing doesn't get worse than "s--t," used about a dozen times. The main characters start out as misguided, acting as thieves as the book opens. They end up finding more purpose and using the powers they didn't know they had for good.

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What's the story?

Safi and Iseult are Threadsisters, witch BFFs bound to each other by a loyal oath. Their life in a port city offers little to amuse them beyond fight-training, card games, and their studies. So they steal from travelers on the side for fun. When all their money is gambled away and one heist goes horribly wrong, sending a scary Bloodwitch onto their tail, they decide they'd better leave town. An estranged uncle has one favor before Safi goes: Can she attend a royal ball as the Domna fon Hasstrel? It's her true rank and title. She accepts what she thinks is the easy way out of the life she never wanted. What's the catch? Her uncle means to betroth her to a nasty old emperor, then spirit her away in a feigned kidnapping. He's worried they'll find out she's a powerful Truthwitch and thinks this will protect her; but with a Bloodwitch already after her and now the emperor's guards and some witchy monks, it doesn't feel much like protection.

Is it any good?

The two warrior witch leads, Safi and Iseult, are worth the read alone, but expect a very slow reveal of the magical world they live in. Regular readers of dense fantasies may not mind that they know so little about so much. But there's an enormous amount to take in: threads and what they reveal, the different kinds of witches and monks, the countries and emperors and their wars and treaties, wells with lost power, the guildmasters, the scary cleaved witches, someone called the Puppeteer invading Iseult's dreams and possibly causing the cleaving, an evil takeover of Iseult's old tribe, a rift with her mother, and on and on.

Author Susan Denard keeps the action going, but this doesn't matter when the reader has to keep stopping and flipping back pages to see which country has the firewitches or when we've met that bloodthirsty royal before who's next in line to kidnap Safi (way back at the beginning). Perhaps instead of a failed heist at the beginning of TRUTHWITCH, brief origin stories of Safi and Iseult would have helped ground the reader in this complex and fascinating world and always move us forward.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about kinds of magic. How are the witches in this book similar to or different from witchcraft in other stories you've read?

  • How does Safi change during the book? How does she come to realize she needs to change?

  • This complex magical world unfolds after the story is well underway. As a reader, were you ever too confused? Would you have preferred that the story take precedence?

Book details

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