My time back in the WITCHLANDS...
Full disclosure: I am in love with this book. A sweet friend lent her ARC to me, and I could barely contain my delirium I was that excited to read the sequel to WINDWITCH. I had fallen in love with the friendship story at the heart of these books. In the first book, we meet Safi + Iseult. Two witches from the Witchlands who each have a specific power. From the get go, their dynamic pulls you in. It's the trust that exists between them that makes a refreshing change to see a book center around a friendship as they are tested and tried.
For reference, here's the official description of the book:
Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…
When 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.
In the sequel, the story still feels like it's about Safi + Iseult, even as the book follows the heels of Merick, Safi's love interest from book numero uno. The undercurrent of their romance is still there but it's not main drive of our hero—he has much bigger fish to fry, since you know, he survived an explosion and he'd like some answers.
In this one, despite being miles apart, you'll still feel how much Safi + Iseult deeply care and miss each other. The book hops from one POV to another, and it never feels jarring, managing to check in with its growing cast consistently and at a solid clip. Which is why Safi and Iseult not reuniting isn't a bad thing. You're still seeing slices of their lives—and it is thrilling.
It's amazing how deftly Susan weaves in the subject of family. Safi and Iseult feel like sisters (they aren't), and Merick is at odds with his own flesh and blood, but ends up relying so much on another character. It's interesting to read how these characters honor the relationships in their lives who feel like family, even if they aren't.
So, let's talk about my favorite character Iseult. Out of everyone, her story intrigues me the most and perhaps it's because I relate to her more. She's the character who hasn't fully stepped into who she is or knows what she's really capable of. Her best friend is nobility, beautiful and a fighting machine, never mind that Iseult can hold her own in a battle. If I were Iseult, I'd start to feel like a shadow. It would be hard not to question what role you're meant to play, if you're even meant for something more and bigger and special. I just love Iseult because she's not afraid of confronting her insecurities. She thinks she just might be the lesser half in her friendship with Safi. She might be the ordinary one. She's totally wrong but that's for her to discover as her arc continues.
And Aeduan. OMG. This man. If you've got a wee crush on this character, can I direct you to this post?
YUP. GUESS WHO'S UP NEXT, FOLKS.
All right, one last thing. The WORLD BUILDING. There's something about stepping back into a world after having left it for a year or more, and everything feeling so comfortingly familiar. That's the mark of a great writer. The world feels it's own, concrete and though it offers surprises, it feels recognizable. Like a friend you haven't seen in a really long time. Like that old friend, you remember certain ticks of theirs, you remember how they take their coffee or how they don't like to wear sneakers. This felt much the same. You remember who doesn't like who, you remember the allies and their enemies and those who put a sour taste in your mouth when you first met them in the previous book.
All that to say, I highly recommend that you get thee to a bookstore (shop small, ya'll!) and pick up this gem. And maybe harass Susan to hurry up with the next one. Speaking of...if you need a beta reader for that one, you just let me know! ;)