Hello Humans! I’m back with another new release book review, this time for Hannah Mathewson’s Witherward which is coming out on February 16th from Titan Books. I have mixed feelings about this one…
Welcome to the Witherward, and to a London that is not quite like our own. Here, it’s summertime in February, the Underground is a cavern of wonders and magic fills the streets. But this London is a city divided, split between six rival magical factions, each with their own extraordinary talents – and the alpha of the Changelings, Gedeon Ravenswood, has gone rogue, threatening the fragile accords that have held London together for decades.
Ilsa is a shapeshifting Changeling who has spent the first 17 years of her life marooned in the wrong London, where real magic is reviled as the devil’s work. Abandoned at birth, she has scratched out a living first as a pickpocket and then as a stage magician’s assistant, dazzling audiences by secretly using her Changeling talents to perform impossible illusions. When she’s dragged through a portal into the Witherward, Ilsa finally feels like she belongs.
But her new home is on the brink of civil war, and Ilsa is pulled into the fray. The only way to save London is to track down Gedeon, and he just so happens to be Ilsa’s long-lost brother, one of the last surviving members of the family who stranded her in the wrong world. Beset by enemies on all sides, surrounded by supposed Changeling allies wearing faces that may not be their own, Ilsa must use all the tricks up her sleeve simply to stay alive.
I went into this book with a little apprehension, mostly just because I felt like this was going to feel similar to things I’d read before – the orphan street rat discovers she is in fact not poor and has a family and they have power is not a particularly new idea you have to admit. While this book does have some unique elements to it including some of the ways in which the different kinds of magic interact, I don’t think the broad storyline felt particularly new to me.
With that in mind, for this book to still hit the spot it would need to have exceptional writing or a totally different take on some of these ideas. There were some aspects of the story that I very much enjoyed. While I am never going to be a fan of a character who’s ‘commonness’ is conveyed by phonetically writing out some of her accent I nonetheless found Ilsa to be an enjoyable main character – a must have in a story like this one. What I liked about her is that she didn’t feel as though she just blindly trusted anyone who was nice to her which is often a pitfall of this kind of character.
The exploration of this alternative London also had some great moments, I liked the idea of different territories within the city belonging to different groups as well as the ways in which both Londons might intersect. Again not something totally novel and perhaps something that could have been brought out a little bit more within the story – but still interesting and there’s the seeds of something there. I think what was missing for me was a real sense of ‘London-ness’ which may be me nitpicking but I felt like this could have been any city, it just had London names. If the city is important to the story then I feel like you need to either have a fantasy city we don’t need to recognise or intentionally make things feel London – beyond a cockney accent…
I will say that I thought the last 10-20% of the book showed real promise, where the elements of the plot that had been swirling around up until that point started to mesh together it all felt very quick-paced and exciting. I could definitely see the promise of this book and of this series so I’ll be interested to see where it all goes next.
Overall, I don’t know that this book was for me, partly because this isn’t really the kind of fantasy that I enjoy – and if you enjoy it then that’s totally valid – but also there was just a bit of missing depth for me – which may be a first book problem or a debut problem or both or neither. I would say that for those that love this kind of story I think this would be a fun read and it is worth sticking out the beginning to get to the end. I’ll be keeping an eye on Hannah Mathewson – the potential is definitely there…
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley all opinions are my own.
Witherward is out February 16th!