This is the first novel in the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard, aimed at a young adult audience, but with enough depth and interest to be very suitable for adult readers also.
Safiya and Iseult are caught in a heist that has gone horribly wrong, one which they have to run from and essentially keep running, via twists and turns of the plot. The friendship between the girls is central to the story and their affection for each other allows us, the reader, to grow fond of them in the light of the other's regard.
The novel is set in a world which has many magic users, witches, but they all specialise to a greater or lesser degree. So you might have an a waterwitch who can control water, but also one who specifically controls water in the body which can be used to heal or harm. The witches have to register their skills and their hand is marked with a symbol to show their specialism. Both Safiya and Iseult are unregistered witches, which has hinted at penalties should they be discovered.
Safiya is the titular truthwitch, she can tell if someone is lying and see their general intentions. A skill which is rare and highly prized for nations coming to the end of an agreed twenty year truce. If she is discovered it would likely mean the end to any personal freedoms and instead enforced servitude to which ever nation could get her. This is the primary reason for their need to flee.
Iseult is a threadwitch, which appears to be a witch type found only in the tribes of Nomatsi. Being a unregistered witch seems to create less problems than the hostility with which she is greeted based on her race. Interestingly Dennard has chosen to make the race of noticeably paler skin rather than darker. Nomatsi have no legal rights, are considered animals and it is illegal for them to carry weapons. The depiction of the racist behaviour is very clear cut, with obvious real world analogies.
While this is very much a tale interesting individuals, the backdrop of nations on the verge of war, treaties, trade and piracy, gives a wider picture of the possible consequences of the character's actions. This gives it a really nice epic quality without going too far down the route of being the "chosen one", which is a familiar trope in this kind of coming of age fantasy.
The pace of the novel is fast, you pick up the detailed background of the world as you go, rather than by long exposition or descriptive passages. This does mean you might miss a detail or two of the world, but it does very much keep the readers interest.
There is a love interest or two, but any romantic relationship is very much secondary to the platonic friendship that the girls have. The Prince Merik is an interesting character, wanting the best for his people, but struggling to achieve anything personally or strategically.
The other man on the scene is the bloodwitch Aeduan, who is tracking the girls with mixed motivations, he is on a mission with more than one master, the Emperor of Cartorra and his own father, as well as the oaths he took as a Monk, it is unclear whose orders he will ultimately follow or if he will disappoint them all.
In all, an excellent fast paced book, with believable and intriguing characters and wonderfully interesting female protagonists.
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