The future’s in the air, I can feel it blowing everywhere, with the Windwitch of change. Let’s breeze through Windwitch, by Susan Dennard.
Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…
After 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.
If you’ll recall, the first book of The Witchlands set down quite a few plot threads. Truthwitch Safi is fleeing the Emperor who wishes to use her power for political ends; Weavewitch Iseult is being pursued by Bloodwitch Aedun; Cursewitch Corlant has taken over a town; Weavewitch Puppeteer is commanding an army of Cleaved; Windwitch Merik is trying to prevent his sister from turning their nation’s fleet to piracy; and there’s a prophecy about the Cahr Awen coming to purify the Origin Wells and cleanse the corruption of magic which causes Cleaving.
How does the sequel handle this profusion of characters and subplots? By adding even more! In addition to the previous villains, there are now two loosely-allied pirate factions, a group of nine-fingered criminals, a corrupt councilor, and a powerful shadow man (he’s got friends on the other side…). In addition to the previous allies, there’s now Empress Vaness, a group of Hell-Bards, and a child with a psychic bond with a mountain bat. In addition to the previous POV characters, there’s now Merik’s sister Vivia. Can’t stop, won’t stop! Wheee!
Okay, I’m jesting, at least a little. The book does begin tying things together by implying that many of the antagonists are in fact pawns of a single greater villain. The pirates are working for Ragnor; the Nines are working for the shadow man who is working for the Puppeteer who is working for Ragnor.
This book can be divided into four main plotlines. Prince Merik, nearly killed in an assassination attempt, returns to his nation and adopts the guise of the vengeful deity known as the Fury in preparation for overthrowing his sister, who he believes responsible for the attempt on his life. Princess Vivia tries to control the nation in the stead of her ailing father, dealing with problems including famine, a refugee crisis, traitors in the council, and possibility she might inherit her mother’s mental illness. Safi and Empress Vaness, also barely escaping an assassination attempt similar to the one on Merik, are taken prisoner and forced to fight pirates and Hell-Bards for their freedom. Aeduan and Iseult, traveling to meet up with Safi, run into pirate forces and rescue the girl they call Owl.
Of these various plotlines, what I found most interesting was the contrast between Vivia and Merik’s points of view. In the first book, only Merik was a POV character, and we only saw Vivia through the lens of his biases and preconceptions. As a result, she came off as a monster, a scheming tyrant oppressing her people and leading her nation to destruction. Now that we get her POV, however, it becomes apparent that she is actually a much more nuanced and human character. She struggles with finding a way to feed her famished nation, with working with a council that doesn’t respect her, with her anxieties about succumbing to the same mental illness which claimed her mother, and with a love she fears cannot be requited.
Okay, I admit it: when it was revealed that Vivia was a lesbian with a crush on her threadsister Stix, I immediately assumed that the book was going to end with her dying tragically. I’ve been burned too many times before, handed out too many Dead Lesbian Penalties, to dare hope. When Vivia went to go stop the fireship from breaking the dam, I thought “yep, here were go, the old heroic sacrifice.” So when Vivia actually succeeded, survived, and was vindicated in Merrick’s eyes, I was ecstatic; even ebullient.
I really enjoyed this book, and have no problem calling it an improvement over the first one. Here’s hoping the sequels continue this trend.
Final Rating: 4/5