Romancing the Fantasy
There are a few reasons we read fantasy: to escape to another world, to live an adventure only possible with magic, to ponder our own situation through the lens of one far off and sorcerous, or just because we like it. Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch is for those of us in the final camp. If worldbuilding so detailed and engrossing is your entry into the genre (a la Sanderson or Jordan), Truthwitch’s YA pacing and vaguely European/Mediterranean setting may not be rich or otherworldly enough to hold you. If it’s the story that keeps you coming back, this book may fare better, but it doesn’t feel like a single quest with an epic finale (a la Brent Weeks or Pierce Brown) so much as two or three episodes strung together with a showdown tacked on at the end. If the metaphorical implications of magic for human nature are what tickle your fancy (see Beagle or Pratchett), Truthwitch is likely to come off a little thin, both in the elegance of the magic system and the ways it’s used to reveal human nature. But if what you like is witty dialogue, fast-paced action, and magical battles in far-off lands (see Robert E. Howard or Anthony Ryan), plus perhaps a smattering of romance, you’re likely to love this book.
Because this is not so much fantasy as fantastical romance: for all the elements of fantasy Dennard leaves thin in the book, the relationship between its two best-friend female protagonists and its dreamy-but-edgy male protags is much thicker than in most fantasy novels, and that’s a breath of change. Not the supernatural-here-and-now of shifter romance or the just-barely-not-this-world romance of Madison Faye, Dennard manages a true blend here. Meaning if you generally like fantasy, you will generally like this—and ditto for romance.
If you happen to like both, Truthwitch is some serious paydirt. You might also go in thinking you like fantasy, only to find out you love romance.
In full disclosure, we fall on the fantasy side of things (no surprise, since this is posting on TopNewFantasy dot com and not a romance review site!). That said, the entire book has a rushed feeling, and the romance is no different. The magic system felt like, with a little more development, it could all link together and make sense as another set of natural laws. The world and polities, too, felt developed a step beyond stereotype but not quite to the historical specificity we love from the worldbuilders mentioned above. The romance is at least not the well-worn triangle, but rather a foursome more reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (to mention another talented author who blends magic and romance well). The opportunities for swapped and mistaken affections abound but… still it felt clear from early on who would end up with whom. Likewise, a few too many of the battles serendipitously involved these affectionates ending in close and compromising quarters to easily suspend disbelief.
Still, a solid read for those of us who are happy with any fantastical romp, and I’d assume the same for those who like romantic relationships to be the focus. And if you have a foot in both camps, Truthwitch may just sorcel its way into your heart.