Book Review: Witchlanders by Lena Coakley
I finished Witchlanders by Lena Coakley about an hour before midnight on Christmas Eve, just in time for it to become my new favorite for 2011. I came across this book by a review on The Book Smugglers (who read so many books it’s hard to keep up). They gave it a good review and I added it to my TBR pile. If I knew how great it was really going to be, I would have gone out right then and there and picked up a copy. Witchlanders by Lena Coakley is an incredibly great book.
Ryder is a hicca farmer in the Witchlands trying to deal with his broken family and get the harvest in on time. Falpian is a Baen prince sent to the broader by his father to mourn the death of his twin brother and his failure as a black magician. Neither boys are who or what they think they are. The red witches throw the bones and predict the future, protecting the Witchlands. The Baen weave a magic through sound and song, creating a singing pair with an unmatched bond. It should be unthinkable for a Witchlander and a Baen to sign together, to create magic, but the bond and the music Ryder and Falpian create together could just stop a war.
I’m a bit speechless about this book. It’s just that good. I can usually get at least a few paragraphs worth of review out of a book but when a book is just this good, I’m finding it a bit hard to come up with stuff to write. How do you critique a book that is damn near perfect without descending into keyboard mashing? Witchlanders is the longest book I’ve read in a while, hitting 400 pages exactly. Every page is flawless. You’d think that such a big book would have at least a few problems but that’s not so in this case.
When I picked Witchlanders up from the library and saw how big it was my first fear was the world building and how the author would handle the set up. I thought for sure I was going to get another information dump. But Coakley weaves her story effortlessly, giving us pieces of information like precious gems that build a fascinating world and has the reader flipping pages as fast as they can to find out more. The world of the Witchlanders and the Baen is rich in detail and history. Coakley’s book is the best example of world building I’ve seen in a while and how she shows us this world is expertly done.
Then there are the characters. When I read that the two main characters were both male I was very intrigued. You almost never see a young adult fantasy novel where the relationship between the main male and female characters is not a huge part of the plot. The information for Witchlanders had nary a female in sight and that was new for me. (Well, there is a female, but Ryder spends most of the book hating her, so we avoid that quite neatly.) Ryder and Falpian are polar opposites in every way and it’s fascinating to watch the two butt heads and have very different reactions to each other. Falpian is happy to have found his bond-brother, Ryder less so. Then we have the fact that they come from two nations that just 20 years ago were at war, and if they can’t figure out what is going on, could very well be at war again.
Witchlanders by Lena Coakley is the best book I’ve read this year. Everything from the world and characters to the prose and mode of storytelling is near perfect. It’s a longish book but at no point does it become slow. Every event and every page is a surprise. All of the characters are expertly crafted, from the two male characters to the tragic villain of story, all with surprising ties to each other. We end the story with Ryder and Falpian fleeing the Witchlands for the Bitterlands, the Baen nation. I hope this means a sequel is coming, since the ending is obviously a set up for one, but Coakley says she hasn’t been contracted for one yet. I hope that changes soon.