So, you're still here. I suppose you need some convincing that you must read this book? Well, let's do this thing! But don't expect a lot of wit or incisive commentary. My brains rather been blown to bits by the gorgeous prose and amazing characters in this book, so this is rather a piecemeal review. Forgive me, readers, for I have read Truthwitch, and it has rendered me incoherent.
The first thing I noticed when I opened my hardcover of Truthwitch was that it had a map. If a book has a map, I am statistically more inclined to love it. I'm very visual, so being able to locate where people are from or where they're going is really handy. Take note, publishers: if you create a map, I will probably buy the book. Just saying.
To be completely honest (which I always try to be. Partial honesty doesn't mix with my personality), I was afraid that Truthwitch would disappoint me. From the first page I knew it would not. These characters were so vivid and antithetical to so many others I've read that I needed to know more about them. This book is, quite simply, magical.
In the Witchlands, people may be born with a specific witchery, which is a talent connected to one of five elements. These elements are governed by Origin Wells scattered across the land; when healthy, Wells give life and power to the surrounding areas. But of late, only two Wells are still alive. As the Wells began to die, strange things began happening to those with powers related to the dying Wells: they began to Cleave. When a witch Cleaves, their magic pulls them apart and tries to cause others to Cleave as well.
Safiya fon Hasstrel, a Domna of the Empire of Cartorra, lives with her best friend Iseult in Veñaza City. There, they learn vital lessons in swordcraft, Witchery, and less ... legal arts. Like how to pull off a heist, or set magical bombs, and so forth. Together, they are unstoppable. Their bond is unbreakable: they are Threadsisters, bound by love, friendship, and loyalty. "Initiate. Complete. It was how the girls fought. How they lived."
Even though ripping off handsome rich men is a lot of fun, the duo needs to be extremely careful about never getting caught, because it will mean their lives. Safi is a Truthwitch--a type of witch that's practically mythical. She can tell truth from lie and see a person's True Heart--who they really are. The empires on their Continent negotiated the Twenty Year Truce to a bloody war .... twenty years ago. Time is running out for negotiations, and Safi rightly fears that were her power known, she would become little more than a pawn for whichever ruler got their hands on her.
Iseult has her own set of problems. As a Threadwitch, she can see the life threads within people as well as the threads that bind people together. However, she left her mother's encampment after discovering that her witchery only allows her to see the threads, not to manipulate them as a full Threadwitch could. On top of that, she is Nomatsi: a traveling people maligned, feared, and hated by everyone else on the Continent. Her fair coloring is a dead giveaway as to her heritage.
After a highway robbery gone wrong, the two girls catch the attention of a monk who is a Bloodwitch. Bloodwitches, like Truthwitches, are practically storybook creatures. But this monk, Aeduan, catches Safi's scent and realizes exactly what she is. And now that he has her scent, he can track her to the ends of the Earth.
Meanwhile, Safiya's exceedingly drunken, good-for-nothing uncle summons her to attend the Emperor's ball in Veñaza City. If she goes, he promises that she will never have to worry about being a domna ever again. She will have no cares. And might that be because he's secretly betrothed her to the Emperor as part of a larger scheme to spirit her out of the city and possibly overthrow empires? Is Uncle really as sloshed as he seems? It's a good way to hide your True Heart, isn't it?
Protected by a mysterious band of rebels, Safi escapes the Doge's palace and reunites with Iseult, who has fled her clan and in so doing, been shot with a poisoned arrow. Prince Merik of the impoverished Nubrevnan Empire has signed a contract with Safi's uncle to transport her across the sea in exchange for trade. Merik is a Windwitch, but not the best. That title belongs to his first mate and Threadbrother, Kullen.
Merik and Safiya are so alike that they instantly clash, but thankfully, Merik has a healer aboard to help Iseult: a monk named Evrane who also happens to be his aunt. Pursued across the sea by Aeduan, the Bloodwitch (who has a peculiar fascination with Iseult that I totally ship), Prince Leopold, Merik's insane sister, and aw, heck, basically everyone and their brother, the fugitives battle giant sea wolves, enemy ships, and bewitched storms. It's thrilling and full of intrigue and flat-out one of the best YA fantasies out there right now.
Safi and Iz are such a breath of fresh air in literature (any literature!). The last book I remember reading with two heroines who honestly care about each other and talk about things other than boys (hi, Bechdel Test!) was the Vows and Honor series by Mercedes Lackey. Usually, in fantasy, the girls are pitted against one another, or at the very least start out friends, but then some smoldering hunk comes between them. With Safi and Iseult, there is no such drama. Their bond is pure and wonderful and it made me so very, very happy.
Truthwitch covers a lot of territory, and I don't want to spoil it for you, but I will say that you'll get: friendship, piracy, magic, killer swordplay (literally), illusions, mythical beasts, and deadly monks. Oh, and some of the steamiest romantic scenes I've read in a YA novel. Usually, when characters love each other and kiss and such, I feel vaguely uncomfortable. But Dennard made me want to fan myself because wow.
But the romance doesn't take front and center: it's the two girls, light and dark, strong, funny, and smart, who run this show.
" ''Because 'just me' isn't who we are,' Iseult hollered back. 'I'll always follow you, Safi, and you'l always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.' "