Witchlanders by Lena Coakley
August 30, 2011; Atheneum
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.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Witchlanders is a quietly enticing novel. A high fantasy that feels foreign yet familiar. Don't let the beautiful girl on the cover fool you. This is a tale about two boys from different worlds whose lives intertwine unexpectedly.
The Baens and the Witchlanders have been enemies forever. Each culture has its own myth stories decrying the evils of the other. Ryder is a young Witchlander boy who scoffs at the Witchlander religion of prophecy and witchcraft that professes to foretell the future and protect the society from the Baens and other evils. The death of his father forced Ryder to grow up fast, taking on the roll of quasi-father, breadwinner, and caretaker to his addict mother. Ryder loves and protects his family yet he is also angry and resentful, particularly of his mother's addiction to a hallucinogenic leaf.
Falpian is a Baen boy sent on a journey to prove himself. Unlike Ryder, Falpian grew up in a wealthy home with an easy life of magical training. He and his brother were destined to be great bearers of magic. With his brother's death and Falpian's evident lack of magic, he is a great disappointment to his father. Falpian is not angry as much as he is broken. He believes he is as worthless as his father believes. He misses his brother horribly and feels like he's let down his people.
The two boys almost literally run into each other. They begin as bitter enemies but soon find themselves connecting. Animosity turns into acceptance which turns into a gradually building friendship. Together, the boys have incredible power which could save or destroy both their societies.
At times Witchlanders was confusing. I wasn't sure whether any of the magical elements were real, but it soon became clear that some were valid and some were fake. The origins of the Baen and Witchlanders society are never clearly spelled out, although enough becomes clear to have a basic understanding. Also, the plot began very slow and didn't begin picking up until Falpian and Ryder met.
That being said, Witchlanders was a highly enjoyable read. Coakley's prose was smooth and welcoming. Even when I didn't understand what was happening, I felt like I was reading the letter of an old friend. The words flowed and urged me to press on. I quickly grew to empathize with and like both of the main characters. I was especially fond of Falpian. I really liked the underlying themes of family, friendship, and the dangers of unfounded prejudice on those who are different, whether in religion, looks, or places of origin. I also liked reading a novel where romance was completely absent. The heart of the book is the changing relationship of the boys. The progression of their friendship felt real and consistently interesting.