3.5 star, YA

Review: Witchshadow by Susan Dennard

Series: The Witchlands #4

Susan Dennard’s New York Times bestselling, young adult epic fantasy Witchlands series continues with Witchshadow, the story of the Threadwitch Iseult.

War has come to the Witchlands . . . and nothing will be the same again.

Iseult has found her heartsister Safi at last, but their reunion is brief. For Iseult to stay alive, she must flee Cartorra while Safi remains. And though Iseult has plans to save her friend, they will require her to summon magic more dangerous than anything she has ever faced before.

Meanwhile, the Bloodwitch Aeduan is beset by forces he cannot understand. And Vivia—rightful queen of Nubrevna—finds herself without a crown or home.

As villains from legend reawaken across the Witchlands, only the mythical Cahr Awen can stop the gathering war. Iseult could embrace this power and heal the land, but first she must choose on which side of the shadows her destiny will lie.

Another installment has finally arrived in the Witchlands series, and in normal Susan Dennard style, it delivered multiple POVs and a plot that ties more people together, but also many more questions about what’s to come.

I will first say that I am on Susan’s newsletter list and that was so helpful in understanding some of this story. For starters, thank goodness she put up a recap of the first 3 books in this series on her website. Like any high fantasy book, there are so many character names, locations and backstories to keep track of that’s super hard to do when it’s been a while since the last one. So I highly recommend you read that – but ONLY if you actually read the first three books instead of spoiling it for yourself.

This one is about Iseult. She’s the darkness to Safi’s light. She was introduced right in the beginning of the series and now we finally get to focus more about her powers, and maybe some secret things she can do that no one else thought she could.

Right off the bat she seems to be morally grey, like she’s making decisions that didn’t quite seem like her from last we left her. It’s an interesting spot to start with, and it’s only through flashbacks of the last month that we get to understand HOW she got to this point.

Romance lovers, if you loved Bloodwitch because you shipped her with bad boy Aeduan so much like I did, fear not about their relationship but I will say that there weren’t a lot of moments present between them in this one. There’s definitely some relationship angst going on in there and you know I love that slow-burn angst, but fair warning, most of the book doesn’t focus on them.

Now, I appreciate the writing style of high fantasies, but there are a couple of things that just prevented me from loving each of these books that was different with the one novella, Sightwitch, in this series so far. I think most of it is due to pacing which was absolutely excellent in Sightwitch. Why is that? Let’s dig into it.

1) The flashbacks

This is a long book. I was able to get through it faster only because I was having some slow days at work. But the reality is something even Susan mentioned in her newsletter. This was supposed to be 2 books but was rewritten into one. So the solution was to plop the characters in the “second” act of the story and make the “first” act a flashback instead of cutting out so many crucial elements.

I understand the predicament but there’s just a bit of confusion as to how things occurred, especially at the beginning. It’s not necessarily a liability the whole way through but it makes the book choppier.

2) The multiple POVs

I don’t know where I land on this one but having so many people to follow really makes the story pause a lot when it gets exciting for one of them. Although this is considered Iseult’s story, obviously many of the other major players are up to something. We still have Safi out there trying to find her way back to Iseult (like, how did they get separated AGAIN?), and some Empresses on the run.

With my focus diverted all over the place, it just made putting down the book easier at times since the suspense was killed quite easily.

So what DID I like?

I’m not going to spend the whole time complaining here. I still thought it was a solid next book in a long series. Things are starting to be answered and I am seeing the threads (see what I did there?) linking certain plot points together from the previous books.

Something big is coming to their realm. Something might already be there. People are waking up with new memories they didn’t have before, and these people are either foe or friend. The history records do not have all the answers, and it’s hard to trust if they were written accurately or not to help our modern day friends decide who to trust.

Guessing which character we know who may be a reincarnation of someone from a millennia ago was super fun. I will ALSO admit I used some wiki page to help me keep track of all of them and their Witchery but there’s no shame in using guides.

There’s hardly any romance in here but that’s not the point in high fantasies. There IS, on the other hand, plenty of action, potential betrayal and empires on the brink of destruction or salvation.

If THIS is what you like, then I’d say you’ll continue to enjoy the latest installment in the Witchlands with Witchshadow.

Overall Recommendation:

Witchshadow is as I have come to expect from Susan Dennard and the Witchlands series. Following more of Iseult’s journey as she dives into her actual powers and tackles how far she’d go to save the people she loves, it’s an interesting continuation from the characters we’ve come to know in the first 3 books. Where it falters a little is the length and the pacing with so many POVs to juggle and confusing flashbacks. It’s also not much of a romance story but the action mostly makes up for it as connections are finally being made and the plot is really picking up. Powerful beings from a millennia ago are finally awakening in this world and something big is happening. The suspense and the fun in guessing who may be friend or foe propelled me through the drier areas. I can’t wait to pick up the next installment regardless if this wasn’t quite a 5-star read.


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