(Thanks to Galley Grab!)
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Witchlanders by Lena Coakley
High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.
It’s all a fake.
At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?
But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—
Are about him.
1. (+) Ryder, the Protagonist - Wow. He's such a compelling protagonist. Stubborn, determined, at times angry and full of grief but caring, kind, strong... After his Fa's death, he becomes the man of the house and works for hours on the hicca farm to provide for his sisters and mother though he had dreamed of doing something else with his life. Best part of all? Watching his character develop slowly throughout as his perceptions of the world gradually change. I loved reading about the Bitterlands and Witchlanders through Ryder's perspective.
2. (+) World-building - One of the best aspects of the story. Man, oh man, Lena Coakley created SUCH a vivid fantasy world. The hicca farms and the meaning behind Bitterlands and Witchlanders and the maiden's woe and the war and their religious beliefs and opinions on magic--it all felt SO incredibly real. The details are all interwoven together, and I could actually picture what living in this world would be like. And there were multi-layered prophecies and things the characters said at the beginning that came back in the end and made the story so complex! I never knew what to expect next from this world but still felt as ensnared in the lies that the witches tell their people as Ryder did.
3. (+) Side Characters - I ranted about the fantasy world building and now I'll rant about how awesome the side characters were. There is not a single character who I feel wasn't developed. I remember distinct traits about every one of them. The mother, Mabis, is fascinating as well as Falpian and Aata's Right Hand and Kef and ... I really could go on and on you know.
4. (+) Character Development - I already talked about Ryder's maturation. Falpian's character arc was also full and satisfying. Even Skyla was developed fully as she transformed from the child idealizing the witches and praying every day to the woman who took risks for her brother just to see that things were done right though they meant giving up her dreams. Honestly, even though you only see the world through two points of view, all the side characters shine and have their own story. (Okay, maybe not Ryder's youngest sister, but that's because she's not really integral to the story.)
5. (+) Villains - I can't remember who said the quote about needing to see the villains in yourself in order for them to feel real but man, oh man, the villains in this story shine. Though you feel for Ryder because of the lies and secrecy that have plagued his life, you can also see why the villains do what they do. And that just made them all the more compelling.
6. (+) Multiple POVs - Alternates between Ryder & Falpian's points of views which not only highlights their important relationship and the difference between a Baen and Witchlander's thought process but also added such great suspense to the novel. In the beginning, you don't really know what Falpian intends to do, and at the end, you don't really know what he'll decide to do. This is a brilliant, brilliant use of multiple perspectives--one of the best I've ever seen.
7. (+) The Writing - This is how a fantasy world should be established. I cannot believe Lena Coakley is a debut author. The writing flows page to page. It's so easy to get lost in this fantasy world.
8. (+/-) The Ending - I don't really know what to make of the ending. I think there'll be a sequel, but if I had one complaint about the novel, it'd be that it lost momentum about 20-30 pages towards the end, and that's because the major battle finished and we're learning about the repercussions... Loose ends are tied up... but I almost wish that some of them had been left more open. But then again, if there isn't a sequel, it's good to have tied everything up... In short, it feels like a complete novel but there's still potential for more.
9. (+) Pacing - Except for my issue with the ending, I'd say the pacing was pretty even throughout the novel. And... I was just going to read the first chapter.... and then just the second... and soon enough I had to put everything aside to finish this book. You'll get hooked, wanting to know what information Ms. Coakley's left out, what's going to happen next, etc.
10. (--) The Cover - Sadly, this cover does not match the awesome book. If I saw it in a bookstore, I would probably pass by it, unaware of the great writing beneath the surface. My issue with the cover? I'm not really sure. It just doesn't grab my attention. It looks like Skyla or maybe Mabis or the villain is trapped beneath a layer of ice, but all things considered, it's hard to distinguish the details, and the red is what most captures my eye. And that does not tell me anything about the book.
I loved this book. I'm a romance addict, and though this book had little romance in it, I kept reading on and on and on.... it's just that good. I really want to know more about the Witchlander / Baen world and hope there is a sequel in the works.
Please check this one out. You won't regret it.