Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Witchlanders by Lena Coakley

From the Back Cover:

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.

My Thoughts:

I loved the first two-thirds of this book. Coakley sets up a unique and compelling fantasy storyworld: two enemy races who have been living separately since a brutal war tore their world apart two decades earlier are facing tensions once more. Two young men, one a poor Witchlander farmer struggling to keep his family together, the other a wealthy Baen princeling sent on a mysterious mission by his overbearing father, must confront their pasts and face their futures, both part of a larger destiny, but unsure of the roles they are supposed to play. They are sworn enemies, yet inexplicably drawn to each other, as if a hidden part inside each of them recognizes the other, and realizes that they could do so much more working together.

The story is beautifully written, and a subtle magic flows throughout, from the soaring mountain peaks of the borderlands to the intimate warmth of a farming family's hut. Those among both races who have the gift of magic draw strength from the bounty of the earth, from the bones of the dead to the song of nature, and it's really quite lovely. There's a great sense of mystery and suspense, too, as both boys struggle to come to terms with a changing world and both begin to realize they've been kept in the dark about the real roots of the war between the nations, and that they may be the key to unlocking long-held secrets that could free both races from years of hatred, fear and mistrust. But those secrets have guardians who are determined to keep them hidden at all costs.

Unfortunately, the story lost its luster for me as it neared the end. The tone changed and it became chaotic, and a little immature, and just as everything should have been coming together, more and more was added into the mix, detracting from the plausibility and eloquence of the story. It almost felt as if a different author took over the story to write the last 150 pages. It started out as a great read, but devolved into a bit of a mess, and left me feeling let down in the end. There are lots of glowing reviews on Goodreads, so I appear to be in the minority on this one. It's definitely not a bad book. Read it if you're looking for something different in young adult fantasy, because it is definitely different. I had just hoped to see the grace and maturity of the first part of the book continue through to the end, and I didn't feel like it did.

My Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

*Please note: This title will be released August 30, 2011, and this review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

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