Author: Susan Dennard
Series: Witchlands #2
Published: expected January 10 2017
Source: ARC from publisher for review
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.
Susan Dennard's return to her Witchlands series is an entertaining, action-filled, and fun to read YA fantasy. With the benefit of book one setting the stage before it, Windwitch takes the opportunity to really build on the foundations laid down in Truthwitch. With Merik, Safi, Aeduan, Iseult and one more person again taking turns narrating their often separated plotlines, this direct sequel creates momentum of its own while furthering the series' overall plot and also introducing new challenges and allies to contend with and further complicate matters. Friendship and found family remain central themes and motivators for a lot of the characters, and there's also little to no romance due to the separation of nearly all the central players. Immediately picking up where the first novel ended, Susan Dennard launches into her second story without a pause.
This is a series that easily bridges the gap between what is considered young adult and what is considered an adult novel in the fantasy genre; there's a lot of appeal to be found in this layered story of friendship, magic, and empire. Dennard is more ambitious in scope with this series than with her first, and Windwitch is her most enterprising novel yet, both in terms in the characterization and in plotting. The worldbuilding and magic system(s?) finally begin to feel understandable here, now the characters at play and cultures/countries involved have had more time and pages to coalesce into something substantial. The pan-European world is both more vivid and tangible the second time around, though there are still lingering questions and plot holes about its history and the way magic/Witchery operates.
One of the many enjoyable things about Windwitch, that also held true for Truthwitch before it, is that these are two books that each slowly amp up the action and build the atmospheric tension until the end of the novel is almost unexpectedly emotional amid all the high stakes fighting and magically dire circumstances. There is definitely an "end of book high," (as another reviewer called it) present in each Withlands story. This duology-so-far, and the characters within them, manage to grow on the reader like moss. It's taken some time, but with their matured narratives these complicated characters are realistic. Some are easy to engage with, and care about, others are less knowable but still interesting. Even with the improved plotting and the stronger writing, it is the varied and multilayered characters that really shine in Dennard's imagined world and the continuing stories set within it.
A strong sequel to an already promising beginning, Windwitch is an action-packed, unpredictable novel that further builds onto the Witchlands series and its mythologies. The magic system that veteran YA author Susan Dennard has invented for her fantasy world is unique (though maybe most similar to the one in Sanderson's adult fantasy novel Warbreaker) and explored more. Her characters are three-dimensional and engaging, and the plot of the book is simultaneously strong and interesting from the start to the all-too-soon ending. New twists -- both in characterization (Vivia's not the one trying to kill Merik and she cares about her country!) and in the narrative (Aeduan's dad is totally Ragnor) also help to keep this story moving at a good pace and to keep reader interest high throughout.