Windwitch is the much anticipated second book in Susan Dennard’s Witchlands Series, picking up where Truthwitch left off. As with many readers, I have been eagerly waiting to crack this book open since closing Truthwitch about a year ago. The following review will feature spoilers – for those of you who would like a spoiler-free review, you can find that review here.
Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies. After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak-which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed. When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her – yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first? After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge-especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands. (Chapters.Indigo.ca)
Windwitch was a solid sequel; not exactly paling in the light of Truthwitch, but not exactly shining either. Dennard successfully captured the voices and journeys of the four main protagonists – Safiya, Iseult, Merik and Aeduan- while telling a quite fantastic tale, all the while laying the groundwork for the building tempest in the background of the story. Windwitch is just as grand an adventure as its predecessor, with the protagonists being in a constant state of stress and danger as they seek each other, themselves, and the answers to why their world is quickly crumbling beneath their feet.
As with Truthwitch, Dennard dives right into the action, giving the story of Windwitch very little time to build before launching into the action. The story is told from five third-person narratives – Safiya, Iseult, Merik and Aeduan, in addition to a new protagonist, Merik’s siter, Vivia. This type of storytelling allowed Dennard to cover a lot of ground, especially since Safiya, Iseult, Merik, Aeduan and Vivia are now scattered across the Witchlands, each engaged in a fight of their own.
- Safiya, who arguably has the most disappointing narrative, narrowly escapes a ship explosion with her life, only to spend the rest of the book as a prisoner to the Hell-Bards. Things finally get interesting when Safiya and Vaness eventually attempt an escape, resulting in the Hell-Bards essentially serving them as they all flee a land of pirates, war on their heels.
- Iseult begins her journey on the run, but quickly makes a bargain with Aeduan. The pair set off in search of Safiya, but (unsurprisingly) come up against a plethora of foes, the least of which is a legendary cave-bat. All the while, Iseult mentally battles with herself and the Puppeteer, unwilling to accept her identity as a Weaverwitch.
- Merik, scarred and proclaimed dead, is a Fury searching for answers and revenge. Yet the more answers he gets, the more aimless he becomes, as his “answers” don’t lead him in the direction he expected, but instead lead him to a plot more complex than he could have ever imagined. All the while, his body is wasting away, and the Shadow Man is calling to him.
- Aeduan set off in search of his stolen silver talers, and ended up bound to Iseult by a promise to find Safiya. As the two trek across the Witchlands, they encounter pirates, armies, Cave Bats and more than a few mysteries, landing themselves in heaps of trouble every couple pages or so. Aeduan himself undergoes a lot of character development (all of which is *hopefully* leading him towards a more positively involved path).
- Finally, Vivia is working hard to feed the Nubrevnans, and her plans for pirating the food (aka stealing it from wherever they can get it), were going wonderfully. Until the Shadow Man ruined her stores, and began killing her people. Until an outlaw calling himself the Fury started causing havoc in the city. Vivia is struggling to maintain her tenuous hold over a kingdom on the brink of war (or revolution?), all the while embroiled in a plot far beyond her comprehension.
By having multiple perspectives, Dennard was able to keep building the rich, but vast and complex, world of the Witchlands with relative ease, without info-dumping or confusing the reader overmuch. Which is saying something, given how much ground the five protagonists cover – truly, the fact that Dennard was able to handle such a crazy, twisting plot with such ease is a testament to the quality of her writing skills. Dennard is not only telling the explicit story the reader is experiencing, but also weaving together magic, politics, and legend to continue building and weaving together a complex over-arching plot. Namely, Dennard is continuing to tell five individual stories, while still weaving the story of the Puppeteer and building towards a war in the background.
Having multiple perspectives also allowed for a significant amount of character building, which again, was very much appreciated. While the reader already knows Safiya, Iseult, Merik and Aeduan, the latter (Merik and Aeduan), as well as Vivia, definitely benefited some from more exploration of their characters. There were two main reasons I felt this: because their characters had not yet been fully developed in Truthwitch (as the girls’ were – this especially applies to Vivia), and/or because they had undergone some major life changes which greatly altered their perspectives an/or behaviour. Vivia definitely benefitted from having her own perspective – prior to this, the reader’s knowledge of merik’s siter had been limited to his (clearly) biased opinion. That being said, while the girls shone in Truthwitch, the boys definitely stole the stage in Windwitch – as one might expect, the book being titled after everyone’s favourite Windwitch, Merik. Merik and Aeduan arguably had the most engaging story lines and underwent the most development as individuals. Both started off somewhat aimless, but as their story progressed, each found their purpose, came to terms with the demons in their past, and ultimately found their purpose before the book wrapped up. Moreover, Merik is very changed – both physically (as a result of the scarring) and psychologically; his much changed character benefited greatly from an in-depth exploration of his adventures. Finally, Aeduan, while having been introduced as a character in Truthwitch, hadn’t really received the attention he deserved, and having an equal share of the pages in Windwitch really gave the reader a chance to get to know the Bloodwitch.
Unfortunately, Dennard dropped the romance in Windwitch. After some steamy scenes between Safiya and Merik in Truthwitch, and the obvious tension/attraction between Aeduan and Iseult, one would expect that Windwitch would feature some romance. But, despite some trust building between Aeduan and Iseult, some pining thoughts and some (implied) potential future relationships, there’s really nothing on the romance front. Beyond the romance, the reader may feel a bit jilted as relationships developed in Truthwitch aren’t acted upon, since the characters simply don’t see each other throughout the novel. Merik and Safiya never once come into contact in Windwitch, and ultimately end up believing that the other perished in a ship fire (ironic, hmm?). Seriously, I felt pretty let down – Merik and Safiya seemed like a sure thing by the end of Truthwitch, and now it seems unlikely that they’ll ever see each other again, nevermind become romantically connected once more.
Overall, I liked Windwitch just a bit less that Truthwitch. Arguably, Windwitch had a lot to live up to, but in the end, it just fell short. The characters, and their relationships, were a huge part of why I loved Truthwitch, and to have not only budding romances but strong friendships separated was disheartening. That being said, I would still recommend Windwitch, simply for Dennard’s fantastic world and exemplary storytelling (4/5).