Witchshadow (Witchlands #4) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: Witchshadow (Witchlands #4)

Author: Susan Dennard

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, didn’t keep track!

Content Warnings: Animal death, body horror, death, gore, violence, blood, murder, mind and body control, infidelity, imprisonment

After a slight dip in the series for me with Windwitch, Bloodwitch brought the series back up to what I’d initially enjoyed in Truthwitch, and thankfully as I discovered the Witchlands series in 2020, I only had a year wait between reading Bloodwitch and Witchshadow. Unfortunately, Witchshadow wasn’t as good for me, the way the book was structured really let it down and four books into the series, I’m still massively confused by certain parts of it! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

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. 

My biggest issue with this book is an unusual one for me, it was the structure of the book, but then this book does have a rather unusual structure. At first I thought I’d forgotten a lot from Bloodwitch because I didn’t recognise where we were when the book started (which to be fair, I had forgotten quite a bit!), but that wasn’t actually the issue, the book had flashed forward in time and starts in the middle of the story, then flashes back through the book back to where we were when Bloodwitch left off. Not only was this super disorienting as a reader to be thrown into an unfamiliar point in the story, it also didn’t work massively well for me, because the flashbacks just felt like an enormous info-dump to fill in the gaps in the present timeline. I don’t really see why Safi and Iseult’s story couldn’t have been told chronologically, the book didn’t gain anything from the non-linear way their part of the story was told, it struggled to keep the two timelines consistent for a start and the more exciting events actually happened in the flashbacks, so it would have been better for everyone if Dennard had just told those events chronologically. I do usually like a non-linear timeline, when it’s done well, but the flashbacks here didn’t seem to fit naturally where they were.

As with all of the other Witchlands books, we’re following a lot of different characters and once again I felt like there were too many points of view, this time we had Safi, Iseult, Vivia, Stix & Aeduan, and we’re across several different parts of the world and the characters are all doing different things, it was very difficult to keep track of where they all were at any given point. I really think this series could use a few less POV characters, because not every character really seems to add to the plot of the story. For me, in this book, Stix’s parts especially felt kind of redundant, I didn’t see what they added to the story so I would have been happy to lose them. Really, I think this book would have been fine with three different points of view, Safi, Iseult and Vivia were really driving the story, so that would have been more than enough.

The plots also all felt very disparate, aside from Iseult’s and Safi’s in the past, each character is on their own journey and it all felt very separate from each other, so the narrative didn’t feel particularly cohesive, it was more like you were reading several different stories in one rather than one book. According to the author, this was originally meant to be two books and her publisher asked her to condense it into one, and you can definitely tell, it does feel like plots that weren’t originally meant to be combined have been jammed together.

It wouldn’t be a review from me if I didn’t mention my old nemesis, PACING, and oh boy did this book have pacing issues. Right from the start, the pacing is incredibly uneven, the majority of the first half of the book is incredibly slow and then when we get to the second half, so many of the events felt rushed through. I think this again comes down to trying to fit the content of two books into one. This isn’t to say that combining two books into one never works, I have read books by authors who have done this before, but I think the Witchlands is so complicated as it is, that combining two separate books just didn’t work very well for this particular series. Some of the chapters were also overly long so that didn’t do anything to help with the pacing.

I also still don’t really understand all the Paladin stuff, even four books in. I don’t get the difference between the Paladins and the Exalted Ones, I don’t really understand who the Six are. Basically the world building feels like there are a load of words being thrown around, but I never feel like anything is really explained properly. Maybe I should have paid more attention to Sightwitch and then I would have understood more of what was going on with all of that, but I found Sightwitch super confusing too!

On the more positive side, I really did enjoy Iseult’s character development in this book. She’s never been my favourite character in this series, I’ve always liked Safi much more, and found Iseult a little cold and aloof (which to be fair, she is meant to be) but I found myself warming to her much more as we spent more time with her in this book. I liked seeing her come into herself and her powers more in this book, and especially seeing her start to deal with her feelings more and not constantly attempt to push them down. I also really loved seeing her start to heal her relationship with her mother as that’s been such a big part of her character arc throughout the series. Seeing her growing to care for Owl was really lovely as well, it felt like that was also a big part in her coming to terms with her relationship with her mother.

I still don’t really get what the endgame of this series is meant to be and we’re one book from the end. Is it reuniting the Paladins? Saving the Origin Wells? Stopping the war between the kingdoms? Something to do with Iseult and Safi being the Cahr Awen? I feel like there are so many ideas in this series that’s difficult to keep track and actually know what the stakes for the characters are, and without knowing the stakes, it’s super hard to feel invested.

I was disappointed that Safi and Iseult were apart again for most of this book, their friendship is meant to be the centre of the story and they’re so great when they’re together, I feel like they’re both at their best, so it’s a shame their interactions are still fairly limited in this book, I would have liked to have seen them together more. I hope in the final book they will be!

I was super confused by Aeduan and Evrane’s part in this book because at some point between Bloodwitch and Witchshadow, they’ve been possessed by Exalted Ones (I think? Like I said, I’m not so up on the differences between Exalted Ones and Paladins) but we never get to see what happened, so we’re just meant to accept that this possession happened off page and have no idea how Aeduan and Evrane got to where they were when we first see them in Witchshadow? It felt like a super large gap missing from the book, and another problem with starting in the middle of the story in this book.

I was quite surprised by the direction taken with Vivia and Vaness in this book, as I didn’t think it was heading towards a romantic relationship in the last book, more a rivalry turned begrudging respect and potentially eventual friendship, but it definitely went down more the romantic route in this book and I actually didn’t hate it, I felt like they had a strong connection and good chemistry, so I’m intrigued to see how this develops in the final book of the series. I don’t know how this is going to work out with the whole Stix/Vivia thing up in the air, because there’s definitely some unresolved business there and I think when the three of them come face to face in the final book (because surely it has to happen!), things will get very interesting.

I’m kind of annoyed that everyone in this series has to be some special type of witch, or resurrected being or royalty, I mean Safi’s the only Truthwitch, Iseult’s the only Weaverwitch, Aeduan’s the only Bloodwitch, Stix is a Paladin, Vivia’s a Queen, Merik’s a Crown Prince, Vaness is an Empress, the list goes on and on. It would be nice if just one of them was a bog standard, run of the mill witch and didn’t have to be super powerful, or special in any way!

There’s a LOT of mind/body control in this book which I didn’t love, because it brings up a whole load of consent issues that make me quite uncomfortable and I didn’t think the book necessarily really dealt with all of that.

Merik was also barely in this? I didn’t massively mind, because I don’t like him much, but it still felt odd that he wasn’t there as he’s been a main POV character from the beginning. I accept that he naturally probably didn’t have as much to do in the narrative of this book, but I’d rather have seen what Merik was doing that been with Stix and Ryber on their pointless adventure in Saldonica.

The writing in this was fine, though it did have a tendency to be very repetitive. I can never quite decide how I feel about Susan Dennard’s writing, sometimes I really enjoy it, and other times I find it kind of cringey and repetitive. I do wonder how much of this is the narrator for the audiobooks though, as Cassandra Campbell is not my favourite narrator ever.

There was one particular scene in this book that really grossed me out. Now don’t get me wrong, Emperor Heinrich is THE WORST, but there’s part of the book where Safi sneaks around to find her and Iseult’s threadstones, and the Hell Bard necklace, and she deliberately walks in on Heinrich and his mistress having sex in order to get what she needs. Now I do understand that Heinrich kept what she needed in his pockets, so she needed his clothes to be off, but she could have done it whilst he was asleep, and saved us all that incredibly awkward and cringeworthy scene!

In the end, this book didn’t really live up to my expectations, I was hoping for a jam packed, exciting sequel, ramping up the action before the big finale. Instead, I found a confusing, messily structured & unevenly paced book, that didn’t really build my excitement for the fifth book. The decision to merge what was meant to be two books into one didn’t do the book any favours and ultimately for me, hampered my reading experience.

My Rating: 3/5 (mostly for Iseult’s story).

My next review will be of my other September audiobook, Little Fires Everywhere. I’ve not really stemmed my review backlog any, as I just finished another audiobook, so I’m still at four reviews left to do after this one!

Bloodwitch (Witchlands #3) Review (Audiobook)


Book: Bloodwitch (Witchlands #3)

Author: Susan Dennard

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, honestly found it hard to keep track!

Content Warnings: Violence, animal death, death of parents, mention of suicide, blood & blood magic

When I read Windwitch back in May, I was a little disappointed as I didn’t enjoy it as much as Truthwitch, there were a lot of pacing issues and it was difficult to follow in places. Thankfully I did enjoy Bloodwitch more and I definitely think it did more to drive the plot forward, though I still found some of the same problems from the other books in the series here. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Loyalties will be tested as never before.

The Raider King’s plans to claim the Witchlands are under way. Now, his forces sow terror in the mountains, slaughtering innocents. After finding the slain, Aeduan and Iseult race for safety. And despite differing goals, they’ve grown to trust one another in the fight to survive. Yet the Bloodwitch keeps a secret that could change everything . . .

When Merik sacrifices himself to save his friends, he is captured by the Fury. However, Merik isn’t one to give up easily, and he’ll do whatever it takes to save those he loves. And in Marstok, Safi the Truthwitch agrees to help the empress uncover a rebellion. But those implicated are killed and Safi becomes desperate for freedom.

War has come once more to the Witchlands. Perhaps if Safi and Iseult were united, their powers could bring peace. But chaos is not easily tamed.

So I have to start again with my biggest problem in this book, which was again the multiple POVs. Don’t get me wrong, I do love multiple POV books, a lot of multiple POV books are my favourites, but the way Susan Dennard does it makes it really hard to follow. There are POV switches in the middle of chapters and there are about five different character threads to follow, all of whom have POVs which means that often by the time a character’s POV has come around again, I’ve forgotten where they were last! There’s such a sprawling cast I honestly found it quite difficult to remember who was fighting with who.

There’s also a lot of journeying in this book which isn’t my favourite, once again, it seemed to be a lot of buildup and then this kind of mad rush at the end where there were a lot of battles and it would have been nice if things had been a bit more even! I also think it was slightly overly long.

I did enjoy the narration here more than I did in Windwitch, though I still don’t love Cassandra Campbell’s accents for the characters!

Vivia was definitely a highlight for me in this book, she’s really coming into her own as a character and I loved seeing her taking charge and standing up to her father. Her newfound alliance with Vaness was an unexpected surprise and I’d like to see where that relationship goes.

In terms of worldbuilding, we get to see more of Marstok in this book which was pretty cool, though there are still some things that I found kind of confusing, like the doors in the mountains and the role of the Paladins in all this. I’m assuming this will be explained more in future books? It was also interesting to see Iseult’s powers develop more in this book but I’d like more explanation, because it felt a little like she was able to do some of the things she did in this book because she needed to for plot reasons rather than having any real basis in what we’ve learned about her magic so far.

Merik’s part in this story was honestly a little forgettable, I didn’t really feel like it added much the main plot and I’m so confused by what happened to him at the end!

Owl was a great new addition to the cast in this one and I found Isuelt’s frustration with her rather amusing!

There was an animal death scene in this that I didn’t feel was entirely necessary, Dennard could have told us that Aeduan killed his dog without going into any further detail!

I didn’t feel like any of the villains in this book were particularly well developed since we had no real clue as to what any of their motives actually were, which made it very hard to feel any real emotion towards any of them. I also really don’t understand what happened with Evrane at the monastery since the last we saw her she was supporting Safi and Iseult.

There’s also a plot twist with Safi that I didn’t feel made a massive amount of sense, although I suppose we will see the point of it in the next book. I did find Safi kind of frustrating in general in this book because she doesn’t like Vaness using her powers to see if her enemies are telling the truth, but that’s literally her power and she agreed to go to Marstok in the first place?

Once again, the storylines felt all quite separate in this book and I think that added to the confusion because you’re following five or six very different stories as opposed to the stories all tying in together, so although you’re following a lot of different people, it all fits into one big storyline (like say Six of Crows).

When it comes to the romance, there isn’t a massive amount (thankfully) but I did think that Aeduan and Iseult’s relationship was developed really well over the course of this book. I have to say, I’m not massively invested in Safi and Merik, they’ve been separated over the last couple of books and I wasn’t really all that bothered by them in Truthwitch anyway. If I liked Merik more then maybe I would, but honestly I think Safi deserves better!

The ending left me super confused. Honestly I have no idea where most of the characters even were at the end of the book, what had happened to them or what they were going to do next. I feel like this is the problem with having so many characters, it gets impossible to keep track of what has happened to everyone!

Overall, this book was an improvement on the second book, but still carried on a lot of the problems I’ve had throughout the series. Still, it does finally feel like things are actually happening in the Witchlands now, so I look forward to seeing where the story goes in the next book!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my September #RockMyTBR book, Tunnel of Bones (slightly late because of a last minute switch-around), which should be up before the end of the week as I have already finished the book, I just need to write up the review!

Windwitch (Witchlands #2) Review (Audiobook)


Book: Windwitch (Witchlands #2)

Author: Susan Dennard

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, I didn’t keep track!

Content Warnings: Transphobia/mental misgendering of a character, violence, death, mentions of slavery

I really enjoyed Truthwitch when I read it back in February, I loved the central female friendship, I enjoyed the magic and though I found the world building confusing, I did enjoy the world. Therefore I was excited to dive into Windwitch, however I found it had classic second book syndrome, pacing issues, lack of narrative cohesion and a plot that didn’t really seem to bring the characters much further forward than they were at the end of Truthwitch. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In this follow-up to New York Times bestselling Truthwitch, a shadow man haunts the Nubrevnan streets, leaving corpses in his wake―and then raising those corpses from the dead. Windwitch continues the tale of Merik―cunning privateer, prince, and windwitch.

I’ll start with my biggest issue with this book, the sheer number of point of view characters. There are 5 different point of view characters in this book, and often the perspective would shift multiple times in one chapter which made things kind of difficult to follow. I don’t know if this was exacerbated by the fact that I was listening to the audio, but I definitely would have found it easier to follow had there not been so many different perspectives. For instance, Iseult and Aeduan are together for a large portion of the book, we didn’t need both of their perspectives all the way through? Same for Merik and Vivia, once the two were together, we didn’t necessarily need both their perspectives anymore.

I also felt like I got confused as to who all the different characters were? Obviously I got the main characters, but there were so many different side characters that I genuinely couldn’t keep up with who everyone was!

There were also a lot of issues with the pacing of this book. For about 60-70% of the book, it was very slow as the characters were largely travelling, and then towards the end, everything got so fast paced that again, it was difficult to follow and I was less excited by all the action and more just confused as to what was going on.

If I’d had access to the paperback, I probably would have gone with that over the audiobook. I didn’t mind the way the narrator read the general text, but I wasn’t a fan of the way she did the different character voices when she was doing character thoughts or dialogue. The accents were all just far too similar and it was difficult to keep track of who was speaking. For convenience sake I probably will be reading the rest of the books in audio, as I don’t have the paperbacks of the rest of the books, but I’ve definitely listened to better narrators since I started listening to audiobooks last year.

The storylines didn’t feel massively connected, obviously Merik’s and Vivia’s were and Aeduan and Iseult’s but their storylines were separate from each other and from Safi’s as well, so it didn’t feel like this book was one cohesive narrative, more like several separate narratives combined into one book. It was also a little strange that given that this book was named after Merik, his storyline was probably the least memorable!

I actually really liked Vivia in this book? In the first book, she felt like your classic one dimensional villain but it was nice to get to see more into her character in this book and see beyond Merik’s rather clouded view of her.

I was really sad that Safi and Iseult were separated for most of this book, as I loved their friendship in the first book and it definitely felt like a lot of the “fun” from that book was missing from this one. I did however appreciate that Iseult having some time on her own allowed her to grow into herself more and become more confident with who she is, as well as develop her new found mysterious powers. She also had some really great badass moments of her own in this book.

I definitely feel like the women in this world are developed a lot better than the men! I feel like I properly know Iseult, Safi and Vivia now whereas Aeduan is still somewhat of a mystery to me.

Merik, I get a sense of who he is as a person, I just don’t massively like him! He’s really stubborn and gruff and he constantly misgenders Cam which wasn’t exactly endearing. I may be biased here though, as I really loved Cam, honestly Merik didn’t deserve such a great companion (and would have died without him).

The romances in this series are…..yeah pretty meh. I honestly don’t really see the chemistry between Aeduan and Iseult although maybe that’s because I still feel like we barely know Aeduan and it’s hard to get invested in a pairing when you feel like you don’t know who one of them is. Merik and Safi are apart for this whole book, but there seems to be a potential love triangle emerging here, which I’m not happy about, not because I love Merik, but more because I despise love triangles. It’s difficult to get on board with Safi and Caden anyway, since he keeps her captive for a lot of this book (which yes, I realise Merik did as well) and intends to return her to the Emperor of Cartorra.

I felt the character relationships in general in this book felt much flatter than in the first book, I guess because their storylines were largely separate and it didn’t feel like there was as much interplay between them.

I still really need more explanation when it comes to the worldbuilding! We get to see more places in the Witchlands in this book which is great, but I feel like I’m no clearer on all the different witcheries and the diferent relationships between the empires in the Witchlands.

The writing here was decent, though again I feel like I preferred the writing in the first book, though I’m not really sure why.

Ryber just sort of appeared from nowhere at the end, and I wasn’t really sure what happened there, though I guess things will become clearer in Sightwitch?

There was some LGBTQ+ rep in this book and some POC rep, which was largely decent, though like I said, I had some issues with the way Merik misgendered Cam throughout the book, as this book confirms that he is a trans boy.

The villains in this book were largely unseen, so it didn’t feel like the immediate stakes were massively high, even though the world is seemingly on the brink of war.

Overall, this book was a classic example of second book syndrome for me. It was slow paced, the constantly shifting perspectives were somewhat confusing and it didn’t feel like it advanced the overarching plot of the series all that much. I’m hoping that Sightwitch and Bloodwitch will be an improvement on this instalment!

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Maggie Stiefvater’s, Call Down The Hawk, the first book in Ronan’s trilogy!