Witchlanders by Lena Coakley

Release Date: August 30, 2011

Pages: 416

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Format: ARC

Source: Inkwood

Age Group: Young Adult

Parental Warnings: none

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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.

Witchlanders is a high fantasy novel about a boy. He's always ridiculed the witches and their "prophecies". They were probably just lying anyways. Ryder is more concerned with getting all the crops harvested before winter. He found it ridiculous that they had to pay "tithes" to the witches, while they sat around doing nothing.He doesn't believe in them. His mother does, though. Her sister - Lilla Red Bird - was famous for her prophecies during the war between the Witchlanders and the Baen. His mother has an addiction to a fatal herb called maiden's woe, and claims that it helps her with her visions. Ryder tries her best to wean her off it, but before he knows it, it's too late. She's convinced that her (dead) sister will respond to her cry for help, and the witches don't believe her either.So when his mother predicts an "assassin in the mountains", Ryder dismisses it as false. When the village is attacked, he has to second guess his mother.  Was she telling the truth? As the villagers try to rebuild their village and seek help from the witches, he knows that the only thing to do is to strike out on his own and kill the Baen who is surely using magic to destroy them.Falpian is a Baen. He's grown up, told that the Witchlanders are evil and not to be trusted, greedy and awful, and he believes that. He's spent his entire life with his twin, trying to make his father proud of them, but when his twin dies, his world falls apart. He is sent away to grieve in peace near the border dividing the Bitterlands and Witchlanders.When he starts hearing voices in his head that let him connect to the magic that's been fostering and blocked inside him, he's overjoyed. He's been given a mission from his father and instructed not to open it for fifty days. If he can complete it well, he might just make sure that he can finally make his father proud.When a startling discovery changes everything, Falpian must join forces with Ryder, and they just might be able to make things right.I've got to be honest, when I first picked this up, I wasn't expecting it to be amazing. I thought it'd be pretty good, a solid read, but it was SO MUCH MORE than that.If I really like a book, I'll end up slowly reading it. I'm a naturally fast reader, but I wanted to spend forever reading this for the first time.Surprisingly, this is one of the very, very few YA books that doesn't have any romance AT ALL in it. Don't get me wrong, I love reading romance (I am a teenage girl, after all), but it was kind of nice to see this in YA, and I know that it might appeal to more people because of that. Some of you may be thinking guys, but that actually isn't true. Guys sometimes DO like romance, and some girls hate it. I'm just saying that more people might pick it up because of that.I really liked Ryder. He was stubborn and loyal. I could imagine him as that gruff boy who is determined to do whatever it takes to make things right. I could imagine him being the father in those books who will harrumph and look stern but has a softer heart once you deserve his respect.Falpian was interesting to me. He wanted more than anything to prove to his father that he was worthwhile. Although I would have liked to see him grieve a little more because of the death of his twin, I was still happy by how he was pulled together. He and Ryder really contrasted well.I actually loved how the ending was kind of twisted up. It could be slightly confusing at times but Lena Coakley executed the ending really well. I always find it really hard to come up with plot twists in my stories, so I have people who are great at it up on my pedestal.I'm happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. It was also refreshing because it's just so different than most of the books in the YA market right now. I saw parallels between this and The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, but that was about it.It's so uniquely crafted and lovely that I think that Lena has broken new ground in young adult lit. It's hard to come up with new, fresh ideas when everything is already covered. Vampires, werewolves...you can do new twists on the same idea but it's revolutionary when something new is dreamed up.This review may be jumbled up a bit, because there are so many great parts about this book and contributing elements that I keep getting sidetracked! Sorry about that.Anyways, I was enraptured by the setting mostly. If the novel had been set somewhere else, or perhaps in the summer, I doubt that it would have had the same effect that it did.You guys know what I'm talking about when I say, winter books, right? I mean like Shiver or Linger or those books that make you think of cold and make you want to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate in a blanket by the fire. Winter books. Witchlanders was definitely a winter book for me. I definitely recommend picking this one up.Nothing fell flat for me. It wasn't really EXCITING, but it had action and was the best setting that I could imagine for this plot. I absolutely loved how well this book was pulled together.Witchlanders was also one of those books that I could just pick up whenever I had spare time, and it kept me occupied for a few days. It was relaxing, and intense at all the right places. Her pacing was quite literally PERFECT.Overall, this book definitely did it for me. A great plot, snowy setting, and its plunge into high fantasy made it a highlight of the year for me. This could appeal to both adults and young adults. Less romance, more action. Anybody looking for a strong fantasy read, definitely pick this up. I'm definitely going to reread this in the winter. Lena was actually giving out hot chocolate on her release date and I won some, so I think that might make for the perfect holiday treat...Witchlanders and hot chocolate.Recommended for anybody who loves: Eragon; The Warrior Heir; Shiver; The Near Witch; winter books; high fantasy; etc,.Possible book club questions:How does his mother's addiction support theories and sayings of addicts in current times ("it helps me!" etc,) ?Why do you think the villagers were looking for somebody to blame?How do you think guilt was a theme throughout the book? Do you agree with the villain?How does prejudice change the stories (what the Baen and Witchlanders were told about the war...)?Do you think that Ryder was right, striking out on his own?What do you think Falpian's brother would say to Ryder if he were still alive?etc,.