2015 Wrap-up + 2016 Reading Goals

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Happy Hogmanay! It’s the last day of 2015 and so, of course, I’m leaping on the bandwagon and doing a wrap-up of my reading over the past year, as well as looking ahead to what I want my reading to look like in 2016.

I set myself a goal of reading 100 books this year and, as of around half an hour ago when I finished my re-read of Strange and Ever After, I’ve read 103. Of those, 16 were re-reads, 14 were diverse reads, 10 were wider reads, 90 were published in the last 5 years, and 21 were books I read without a preceding recommendation (eg unknowns that caught my eye on the library shelf or that I picked up after stumbling on the author’s blog).

For 2016, I’m making it a goal to read 104 books, or 2 a week. Of those 104 books, I’d like an eighth, or 13 books, to be from my ‘wider reads’ shelf on Goodreads, the broad category of books that fall outside my general comfort zone: classics, literary fiction, poetry, romance, basically anything that doesn’t feature vampires or totalitarian futures. These are the books I add to my TBR because they look interesting, they’re the books I tend to enjoy once I get started and I’m glad to have read them, but when I’m sitting around deciding what to read next, they tend not to be the books I reach for. Similarly, all but the four Discworld classics I read this year have been published in the last decade (mostly since 2010), and I’ve predominantly read books on recommendation (an excellent way to find good books, but I’m finding it’s making me more hesitant to pick up unknown books). I don’t have any specific goals here, just a general sense that I’d like to make some time for the books that get overlooked in favour of the ones that everybody’s talking about.

I’d like a further 13 books to be books by authors of colour. The 14 books I’ve qualified as diverse this year were either written by or had as the protagonist a POC, LGBT+ individual or a person with disabilities. I’m focussing on authors of colour this year for two reasons. Firstly, I’m focussing on authors rather than characters (or both) because I don’t want to contribute to a trend where, regardless of the quality of the representation, white people who write POC receive more acclaim than POC authors. Secondly, I’m focussing on authors of colour (rather than including authors from other marginalised backgrounds) simply because diversity is such a massive topic that if I lump it all together I’ll either get a very superficial overview of diversity or, and I think this is more likely, I’ll gravitate towards a particular subset of diversity but by calling it broadly ‘diverse’ I’ll be under the false impression that my reading is truly diverse, rather than mostly straight and able-bodied but with racial diversity. In future years I expect I’ll shift my focus so that my reading can truly reflect the world we live in in all its vast, multifaceted glory.

Overall, I’m aiming for a quarter of my reading to fall outside the white-authored SFF mould. I love fantasy, and I love a lot of white authors, so I’m not ditching those books, but I hope that by the end of 2016 they’re joined by plenty of POC fantasy authors and books from all kinds of other genres.

Anyone else setting reading goals for 2016?

My thoughts on the new Winner’s trilogy covers

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So Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse series have new covers, at least in the US (the UK has a different publisher and I’ve seen no word on whether our covers will also change). According to the publisher, the change was made to show Kestrel as “as bad*** as she is”.

The original covers

The original covers

It’s true Kestrel is a badass. She’s a social butterfly, a skilled pianist, a brilliant strategist, and she protects herself in a vicious, militaristic society by outfoxing her opponents and manipulating conversations. She’s a compelling, thoughtful, flawed, clever, vulnerable, passionate young woman, a three-dimensional character who displays resilience and intelligence.

However, Kestrel is not a sword-wielding warrior woman, much as her father, a general, would like her to be. It is made blatantly clear that her strength lies not in physical prowess but in her quick-thinking and her compassion. While her friends and family consider the slaves’ rebellion monstrous, Kestrel sympathises with their aims; after all, her people stole their country, their homes and their freedom. She could never defeat her peers in armed combat, but she holds steadfast to her own morals, torn between loyalty to her friends and family and her beliefs.

The new covers

The new covers

Changing the covers to reflect Kestrel’s badassery, then, reflects a very narrow definition of badassery and, by extension, strength and by so doing tries to force Kestrel into the Strong Female Character™ mould. It feeds into this notion that there is one type of acceptable female character in fiction: the woman who embodies male-coded traits like stoicism and physical prowess. Some women are like that, and they have a right to see themselves represented in fiction, but so too do the women and girls who faint at the sight of blood or who are more skilled with words than weapons. Rhiannon Thomas has an excellent post on this phenomenon, in which stereotypically feminine traits are downplayed and female characters are only acceptable when they’re stereotypically masculine. It’s an insidious kind of sexism, one that accepts women as men’s equals, but only if they mould themselves to masculine expectations and norms. It’s the same kind of sexism that sees girls accepted as tomboys and boys bullied for playing with dolls, because of the underlying belief that the masculine is better than the feminine.

The publisher’s decision to change the covers, then, is not an innocent redesign. While the intention may have been to symbolically represent Kestrel’s skills as a military strategist, it did not occur in a vacuum, but within a cultural context where women like Kestrel are not accepted just as themselves, but must be more like the woman portrayed on the new covers. It perpetuates a narrow perception of what constitutes strength, particularly in a female character. More than any aesthetic consideration, like how my books won’t match on my shelf, that is the problem I have with the new covers. While the original covers are not a perfect rendition (the dresses are not as described in the books), they’re representative of Kestrel as a person and they do not shy away from femininity. The new covers, on the other hand, boil her down to a dismissive stereotype and, contrary to the publisher’s claims, do not represent her badassery in the slightest.

Teenagers reading about rebellion? It’s not as bad as you may think.

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Perhaps the most defining feature of YA dystopias, and other young adult stories set in cruel and unjust societies, is revolution. Unlike non-YA dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale, these are not mere personal stories of grief and suffering, but stories about changing the world.

It’s easy to see why these books have such appeal to teenagers. Teens are, after all, stereotyped as constantly rebelling against authority figures like parents and teachers, and to an extent this stereotype is justified and even developmentally important; teenagers push the boundaries when the consequences are mild and by so doing learn to control themselves and make decisions.

More significantly, teenagers have virtually no political power. Too young to vote, their voices are unheard by politicians, and books like The Hunger Games give a vicarious outlet where teenagers effect real change in the social and political spheres.

This also goes some way towards explaining why these books are so popular with millennials, too. Though we vote, we still often feel powerless in a society whose politicians and largest voting population are a generation older, many of whom look down their noses at ‘the youth of today’ and assume we’re self-entitled because the job market is worse than it was in their day. We, too, find some vicarious satisfaction through reading stories of other young people who hit back at the reigning regime.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. While we may choose stories that feature young people taking control of their political situation because of our own impotence, those stories we choose are also inherently hopeful. They’re stories where change is possible, where unjust societies are made more fair. Moreover, there’s a sense of social responsibility; readers of these stories are not satisfied with a personal victory for the protagonist, but want to see this social change happen. It reflects a growing concern with social justice and fairness. While these books tend to be told from a close POV, they are not focussed solely on the individual, but on the collective experience.

As we read, so we think. Teenagers and millennials care about combating the kyriarchy that underpins Western society, and this is reflected in books about fighting unjust societies. This is by no means unique to our generation – one only need to look at the suffragettes and the American civil rights movement to see otherwise – but our reading choices show that a sense of fairness and desire for equality is a characteristic of our age group.

So don’t worry if the teenagers in your life are reading stories of rebellious teens fighting social norms. It might just mean they care.

October Wrap-Up

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Queen of ShadowsWhat is this, the Year of Slumps? After my super-long one back in the spring/early summer, I had a great reading month and then slowly devolved into another slump. It took me a full month to read Siege and Storm, even though I utterly adored Shadow and Bone and Ruin and Rising after it (now I’m on Six of Crows!). I don’t know if it’s other stress in my personal life, putting pressure on myself to blog/write more consistently, or simply facing my growing TBR from reading other blogs; whatever it is, something’s making me less enthusiastic about books lately, so I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is.

Even though I’m not always around here, though, I do post regularly over at Coven Book Club. This month I recommended Theresa Breslin’s Spy for the Queen of Scots, Elsie Chapman’s Dualed, Maria V. Snyder’s Study series, and a trio of my favourite prequels. I also discussed Sarah J. Maas’s Queen of Shadows with Allison and Alyssa.

I’m writing this from my rental cottage on the Isle of Skye (if you’re following me on Instagram, you’ve probably already noticed because of my gratuitous scenery shots. I do occasionally post bookish photos there, too). We’re only here for the weekend, but it is beautiful. I always feel so inspired to write big, sweeping Tolkien-esque fantasy – with the attendant scenery porn – when I’m in the Highlands. And I love October; it feels like the entire world is gearing up and settling in for my favourite season.

DualedAnyway, this month I read eight books: Siege and StormRuin and RisingMagic StudyFire StudyThe Martian, DualedDivided, and Spy for the Queen of Scots. As you can see from that list, I also managed to adhere to my goals for reading more widely and diversely, something I didn’t manage in September (when the only two books I read were Queen of Shadows and Meg Cabot’s Royal Wedding). I didn’t even have to try that hard to make sure I was meeting them; I think I picked up The Martian because my fiancé wanted to see the movie, then went ‘Hey, that counts as my wider read!’ When I’m in a slump then there’s no point in pressuring myself to read specific books, so I think these goals are broadly achievable long-term (as long as I can get this slump problem sorted!).

That outlining thing

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Yeah, it didn’t really work out. And if I’m honest, I was pretty disappointed it wasn’t working out. I’d done brainstorming and research beforehand and I thought I had a good handle on my magical cookies and my main characters. I got the basics of the outline down – things like motivation, theme, antagonist, etc – and thought it was going pretty well, until I reached the bit that I always fail at: deciding what actually happens.

I got the opening scenes and the ending scenes sorted and then – nothing. ‘Okay, okay,’ I said to myself. ‘This is what you expected. Write the scenes you have and then plan further.’

So I started writing. I’ve only written around 2.5k words so far, but already I’m diverging from what sparse outline I have. My MC’s external goal is the same, but her reasons for doing it are completely different, and she’s impeded by a character I hadn’t even thought of when I started writing the outline. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I am kind of feeling like the afternoon I spent working on the outline wasn’t really needed. And I was disappointed. Two weeks ago I thought outlining was THE thing I needed, and yet here I was with a rubbish outline that had almost nothing to do with what I’d written down.

I moped a bit (writing’s meant to involve some moping, right?), and then I realised that perhaps I wasn’t wrong about outlining being the solution, but rather, I was wrong about when that solution should be implemented.

Let me tell you the story of the neverending WIP. I’ve been working on this story for, quite literally, years. It’s in its fourth or fifth iteration now, and sits at around 45k words. I’ve not touched it in a few months though, because it’s such a mess that it feels overwhelming to try to keep writing, even though I love the world and the characters. I have first-person present tense passages, third-person past tense passages, characters drinking tea and doing nothing, characters doing the same thing twice because I changed my mind about how they should do it, plot threads appearing and disappearing at random, it’s a mess. And everyone says it’s okay for the first draft to be a mess, but it’s gotten so messy that I really struggle to pick it up and keep going because I can’t get a grasp on the story.

This happens in every draft. Every one of them I’ve stopped around 40-60k words and started over, because it’s just gotten too unwieldly. The problem, of course, is that each time I start over again I’m effectively pantsing it all over again, so halfway through I again end up mired in a rambling, incoherent mess. I told myself at some point during this draft that I’d get all the way to the end before revising, but it’s getting messier and messier. I alphabetise my books and colour-code my diary. My brain does not handle disorder well 😉

I’ve tried outlining this story before, back in April or so when I first realised I was getting confused by my own plot (this is not a good position to be in. I do not recommend it). I struggled with it because I felt like it didn’t ‘fit’. In retrospect, this was probably a sign that the story is broken, which is why I can’t seem to get anywhere with it. I don’t think it’s irreparably broken, but I think I need to kill some darlings.

But not yet. I’m going to keep working on this new story for now, partly because I’m SUPER-ENTHUSIASTIC about it, and partly because I think it will be easier to critically examine my first story after some more time away. When I inevitably reach the point in this book where I have no idea what’s going on, I’ll put it aside and I’ll work on rewriting my first book, but this time with a plan.

Apologies if you’re here for bookish goodness moreso than my navel-gazing writing rambles; most of what I’ve been reading recently is either re-reading or research for my WIP, so most of my recs and recent reads are featuring over at Coven Book Club lately.

Plotting, pantsing, and everything in between

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I used to think I was a plotter. I’m a pretty organised person in general, I always outlined my essays at university, and I’ve always struggled to write without having an idea of where the story’s going.

No matter what kind of outlining method I tried, however, I’d get partway through and then find I had simply no idea where the story would go. I threw my hands in the air and admitted defeat. I was a pantser, and I discovered my story by writing.

Except that’s not really true, either. I tried to pants a novel for NaNoWriMo one year and got all of a chapter in before I totally lost steam. Susan Dennard claims that most writers seem to fall somewhere in between, and since incorporating her advice on magical cookies and scene screenplays I’ve seen vast improvements in my writing.

And yet.

Every story I’ve worked on follows the same pattern, from the novel I wrote 10k words of in a week and haven’t looked at since to the one I’ve got a 40k-ish draft of and have been working on for years. As I daydream about my book, my mind bounces from idea to idea and my mind fills with ALL THE THINGS I want to include in my story. At the same time, though I tend to struggle with giving the necessary depth to the storylines already in place. For every WIP I have, I already have ideas for the second, third book in the series before I’ve written more than a chapter or two of the first. I know I want my protagonist to end up at point X, but gloss over getting her from point D to E.

In essence, my stories are full of ideas but lack structure. The obvious solution is more outlining, but every time I’ve tried it in the past I’ve only managed the most bare-bones outline before giving up in frustration because I have no clue what happens next. My most recent attempt was after downloading Libbie Hawker’s Take off Your Pants! Even though I couldn’t create a full outline with her method, though, it’s stuck in my mind. More than other outlining methods I’ve read in the past, it seems like what I need for my particular problems.

Last week the lightbulb went off in my mind. I already plan to an extent, with magical cookies, scene screenplays, and general daydreaming. Yet while this method isn’t offering quite enough structure, Hawker’s method (indeed, every method I’ve tried) requires too much too soon. The obvious solution, then is to meet somewhere in the middle. Armed with my magical cookies, I can create a basic outline to start with, and as I write and learn more about the story, I can fill it in further and tweak it as needed.

I think it’ll be easiest to try this with a completely fresh story, and coincidentally there is a story kernel that came to me last week and that I’ve been brainstorming these past few days. I’m really excited about this story, but beyond the magical cookies and a few other vague ideas, I know nothing about where I want it to go, so it’s a perfect candidate for outlining.

I’ll keep you updated on how this new venture turns out for me 🙂

Outlander, The Raven Cycle, and accuracy in fiction

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I try not to be too much of a stickler for accuracy in fiction, because I appreciate that good storytelling transcends fact. At the same time, however, a lack of accuracy pulls me out of the world the author’s created, impairing my ability to enjoy the story. An interesting case is that of the UK version of The Raven Cycle, as Scholastic has elected to translate some of the American words into British words. Quite apart from the confusion this causes for a cross-cultural reader like myself (is the first floor the ground floor or the one above it?), it threw me out of the story to see teenage boys in Virginia talking about mobile phones and petrol, and don’t get me started on the jumpers that were a part of their school uniform. In this case, the author did not introduce factual inaccuracies to further the story, but the publisher did in order to increase clarity – with the ironic effect of making it more difficult for me to understand.

The Raven BoysThis case was particularly irritating in that I not only saw no real benefit to the change (most British teenagers these days watch enough American TV to understand common US terms), but it was repetitive. Every time someone mentioned a cell phone, they called it a mobile meaning that there were repeated assaults on my suspension of disbelief, which is particularly disappointing when Maggie Stiefvater has created such a lush, haunting world. I grew relieved when they simply used the word ‘phone’.

That being said, sometimes being too careful to adhere to the specific facts can impair the story. Nowhere is this more true than in historical fiction. A good example would be religion in Outlander. Both Claire and Jamie are Catholic and, while this is theoretically possible it’s highly unlikely.

It’s true that some Highlanders, amongst them Jacobite supporters, were Catholic, and there were also some Catholics in England in the 1940s, though mostly from Irish backgrounds. Both groups, however, were vastly outnumbered by Episcopalians (known as Anglicans in England). Claire in particular is unlikely to have been Catholic; her surname, though French, has been Anglicised so in reality a family like hers would have almost certainly adopted the English faith. If she was Catholic, this would have had repercussions on her life in 1940s England, though this is never addressed.

Outlander-TV_series-2014There are, however, strong narrative reasons for making the main Jacobite characters Catholic. It simplifies the conflict in a story where said conflict is tangential to the plot, and where discussions of Episcopalian notions of divine right and social hierarchy would bog down the story. As an Anglican Claire would not have been able to marry Jamie and, while the differences in their faiths might have added an interesting dimension to their relationship and the wedding storyline, it may also have simply overcomplicated it without real narrative value. Because it is theoretically possible for both Claire and Jamie to be Catholic, then, for me this falls into the category of acceptable deviations from reality.

On the other hand, however, this is not the only departure from fact in the series. While it is justifiable, there are many other minor issues, like the question of where Frank got the petrol to drive from England up to the Highlands when it was still rationed (or, for that matter, the car, as few people had cars in 1940s Britain), as well as Jamie’s insistence on marrying in the ‘Fraser tartan’ when clan tartans are a 19th century invention. There are further inaccuracies in the books, but it’s been six or seven years since I’ve read them so the TV series is more fresh in my mind.

And that, really, is a key element for me. A single inaccuracy, chosen for particular story reasons, can be overlooked, even appreciated for the depth or nuance it brings to the narrative. Multiple inaccuracies, even made with the same deliberate care and attention, build on top of one another so that rather than having one ‘Wait, what?’ moment, there are several. Like the use of mobile phones in The Raven Cycle, each instance jolts me out of the world and it is a conscious act to return to it.

This is, of course, all based on my personal experiences, and it’s entirely dependent on my own personal store of knowledge. If I were talking about a series set in 18th-century China, for instance, comparable levels of inaccuracy would go straight over my head, while I would be unlikely to notice the use of British words in an Australian novel. Similarly, I know some readers who have no problem whatsoever when they recognise historical inaccuracies – deliberate or not – in fiction, as long as the story’s good.

What about you? Do you find even a small inaccuracy ruins your enjoyment of a story, or can it be completely anachronistic and still grab your attention?

Waiting on Wednesday: The Vanishing Throne

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New WoW

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, dedicated to spotlighting upcoming releases.

This week’s selection is Elizabeth May’s upcoming The Vanishing Throne, sequel to The Falconer.

The Vanishing Throne

From Goodreads:

My name is Lady Aileana Kameron.

First the fae murdered my mother. Then they destroyed my world.

Now I’m fighting for more than revenge.

Aileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her friends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility. But when she gets her chance, she seizes it . . . to rejoin a world devastated by war.

The future is bleak. Hunted by the fae, running for her life, Aileana has only a few options left. Trying to become part of a society scarred by – and hiding from – the Wild Hunt; trusting that a fragile alliance with the fae will save her; or walking the most dangerous path at all: coming in to her own powers as the last of the Falconers . . .

My thoughts:

I adored The Falconer: its steampunk version of Edinburgh, its use of faerie lore, its BAMF protagonist. Throw in a cliffhanger ending and I’m on tenterhooks waiting to find out what happens next!

Bloodlines, by Richelle Mead

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bloodlinesThe world of Bloodlines is at once familiar and unusual. It’s an unusual take on the usual vampire myth, with two races of vampiric beings: the mortal, human-like Moroi, and the immortal, monstrous Strigoi. The Moroi, though magical, are physically weak, and are guarded from the Strigoi by the semi-human dhampirs. Throw in the Alchemists, who officially want to protect the world from the Strigoi but unofficially think anyone with vampire blood is sub-human, and you end up with a unique world that nods towards vampire myth while making it its own.

Usually this is the part where I summarise the plot, but because Bloodlines follows directly on from significant events in Vampire Academy there are spoilers. That said, you don’t need to have read Vampire Academy in order to enjoy Bloodlines, and I think in some ways Bloodlines may be a better introduction to the world. Rose, the protagonist of Vampire Academy, is a dhampir, and grew up amongst the Moroi vampires at a boarding school, and the majority of the series is set either at that school or at the Moroi court. It’s a series that’s very much immersed in Moroi civilisation.

With Bloodlines, Sydney, too, grew up as part of the vampire world, but she was brought up an Alchemist, humans who use the scientific resources available to them to fight the Strigoi vampires. Moreover, the early books in the series are set at a human school, and so the series is grounded in the real world in a way the Vampire Academy series isn’t.

The Indigo SpellI love Sydney as the protagonist in this series, and I think she’s the perfect complement to Rose. Rose is an ass-kicking, smart-mouthed BAMF, while Sydney is a religious, self-conscious nerd. Both of them, though, have a strong sense of right and wrong and deeply-held loyalty to their loved ones. Sydney grows so much over the course of the series, discovering that the Moroi she so despises are not so evil after all, while the Alchemists to whom she is loyal are not so pure as she may think.

I think Bloodlines, like Vampire Academy, is classed as YA, but it’s a bit of an older YA. For one thing, Sydney turns 19 midway through the series, and Adrian, who is 22, becomes a POV character in book 4. More than that, though, Sydney is a more mature narrator than Rose. It’s true that Rose has had to grow up quickly, but she can be hotheaded and impulsive in a way that impedes her as often as helps her. Sydney, on the other hand, is more analytical and academically-inclined.

On the flip-side, however, Bloodlines is in a way a quintessentially YA story, about a young woman learning to differentiate herself from her parents and decide what she believes and whom she befriends.

One of the things I appreciate most about this series is that it subverts the first-love-equals-true-love trope so often found in YA. As readers of Vampire Academy know, Adrian was deeply in love with Rose, and still is at the start of Bloodlines. Over the series, though, he falls in love again, and his relationship with Rose turns to one of genuine friendship and platonic affection.

Silver ShadowsI really like the religious undertones of the Alchemists, too. Sydney’s upbringing has a lot in common with people brought up in fundamentalist families; she was homeschooled and taught to be cautious around the Moroi lest they seduce her to evil, in much the same way that children in many American Christian fundamentalist families are homeschooled and taught to be wary of anything ‘worldly’ lest it cause them to sin. Sydney’s character arc, then, is in part the story of a girl leaving behind the religious brainwashing of her parents and learning to think for herself.

Mead blends this isolated upbringing with a career entirely different from any a Christian fundamentalist girl would imagine for herself, as Sydney is, effectively, a secret agent, working undercover to preserve the fragile peace within the supernatural world. The conversations Sydney has with her father have undertones of the same kind as those Rachel has with her father in Devoted (which I recommended on Coven Book Club a couple of weeks ago), but in an entirely different context. Mead uses the supernatural context of the Moroi world to explore the way in which religion and overzealous beliefs can be used to brainwash children, and the fine line those children walk when they begin to think for themselves.

Bloodlines is, of course, the perfect series for existing Vampire Academy fans, but it will also appeal to new readers in search of a story that melds contemporary themes with a paranormal context.

Waiting on Wednesday: Truthwitch

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, dedicated to spotlighting upcoming releases.

This week’s selection is the first installment in a quartet by one of my favourite writers, Susan Dennard:

Truthwitch

(on a sidenote, isn’t that an absolutely beautiful cover?)

Truthwitch, by Susan Dennard (The Witchlands #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

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

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

My thoughts:

I’m really excited about the friendship between Safi and Iseult. With romance being a major element in a lot of YA fiction, I often feel like the friendships that so many girls and women rely on in real life are ignored. How many female protagonists have we seen who have NO female friends? Sooz says this relationship is based on her friendship with Sarah J. Maas, so I’m looking forward to a close, platonic relationship.

I absolutely loved Something Strange and Deadly; I read the entire trilogy over the course of one weekend. Truthwitch is one of those books that sounds amazing in its own right (Magic! Pirates! Female friendship!) but that I’m also looking forward to because of who wrote it. Everything I’ve read by Sooz is amazing (if you’re over 18, you should check out The Starkillers Cycle, which she co-writes with Sarah), and January just can’t come soon enough!