That word doesn’t reference the content of this book, but instead how I feel about it. In particular, I am in love with the world of the Witchlands, with its red zanthia trees, its fields of hicca, the verdant valley and the mountainous backdrop. Lena Coakley has imbued the setting in her debut novel with something magnetic and deep, full of possibilities and beauty and peopled with flawed, courageous and mad characters. I am so very happy I read this book!
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.
Witchlanders is, without a doubt, high fantasy. It is exactly what I’ve been craving in a story – strong world-building, mysteries upon mysteries, tensions running high among characters who may or may not have the motivations they claim aloud. It is also a feast for the imagination.
There were descriptive passages of Witchlanders where the mention of stark music and magic made me think of nothing so much as Adele’s raw and powerful song Someone Like You. I don’t know if I’ve ever matched a song and a story so closely in my head before, but the bittersweet lament seemed to fit the mood. I think you may see what I mean when you read Witchlanders for yourself.
The setting, of course, is not the only consideration. Let’s talk characters. Ryder is sure of himself and stubborn in it – he won’t accept a new reality until it’s forced on him. That immovability was so like my brother Peter’s personality that I accepted it immediately (you know you know someone like this. trust me). After all, it’s a standard convention that the stubborn ones need to be knocked over by magic before they’ll believe in it, right?
The story’s two small weaknesses, if they can be called that, were in the opening pages and the rushed pacing at the end. The opening of the book was the larger of the two, because I think it could turn less persistent readers away. I’ll just put it out there: the first bit, in Ryder’s home? Confusing. Partially because he’s confused, and partially because he is dealing with an unstable person, and the rest because everyone’s name is unusual and unfamiliar at that point. If you can push past this and acclimate to the world Coakley has created, you’ll get sucked into the story and its striking landscape.
Recommended for: fans of fantasy (and especially high fantasy), those who can appreciate the ordinary magic of a landscape, appreciators of complexity of life, and anyone who has ever thought that singing is a sort of enchantment which never seems to get its due.