You know those days when your mom gets addicted to a hallucinogenic flower and starts prophesying, your sisters decide to join a coven of witches, your hicca crop nearly fails, your best friend gets killed, and it turns out that your soul partner is someone you despise? Yeah, I hate those days too. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much a typical day for Ryder, at least as far as the farming goes. Ryder is a poor but otherwise normal Witchlander teen, struggling to support his mother and two younger sisters alone, after the death of his father. Meanwhile, across the border, an unloved Baen prince, Falpian, has just lost his twin brother and is preparing to depart for a remote area of the mountains to fulfill his mourning period.
Although fanciful talk of witches and covens, wars and those who fought them, and coming-of-age stories are standard fare in YA fantasy, its serious themes are what set Witchlanders apart.
Taught to hate each other since the end of a huge war twenty years earlier, the Baen and Witchlander races never mix. Still, unusual circumstances throw Ryder and Falpian together, and they must collaborate to keep their peoples from a second full-blown struggle. Noticing any parallels to our society? No? Then how about how they each have to overcome instilled racial barriers and see beyond their stereotypes to effectively work together? Basically, Lena Coakley’s novel provides a stunning moral that’s about as pertinent to modern society as you can get, but is never obvious or cloying.
From the first page I was completely engrossed in Ryder’s story. The stunning plot and beautiful descriptions of the Baen form of singing magic only sucked me in further. Just as the story reached its climax though, it began to falter. The last forty pages jump from character to character. Plot twists pile up faster than unfinished homework before exams. Characters are revealed, change allegiances, then change them again a page later. Distant relatives show up, and guess what? They were instrumental in winning the war twenty years ago! But no, wait, they’re actually evil. Wait a second! They’re good again! That’s pretty much what the end of this book feels like. There are simply too many plot switchbacks for smooth reading.
In general, fantasy is one of my least favorite genres because it’s one of the hardest to get right. Still, Coakley manages to mesh an engrossing plot with fluid writing. Most importantly, she uses themes which made a simple book with a good plot into a powerful, layered story far more potent than your typical YA novel, despite the shaky ending. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope you’ll pick it up. If you want to find me, look outside my bookstore the night before Witchlander’s release. I’ll be the one with the tent.
Meredith Hilton hails from Washington, DC during the school year (in the summer, her location is pretty much up to chance). On any given day you can find her online, being artsy, in the library, or surreptitiously writing poetry during math class.