Summary: Ryder and Falpian are two teens from the warring Witchlander and Baen people. Raised to hate each other and to believe in different deities, when they come in closer contact and realise they are linked through a mysterious mind connection, their first instinct is to kill one another. But when Falpian’s father tries to have him assassinated and the witches from Ryder’s community won’t acknowledge that his mother Mabis can see the evil that will soon befall them, Ryder and Falpian must find a way to work together to unravel the secrets surrounding the contention between their people. Both sides seem to be trying to rekindle the war, and it is up to Ryder and Falpian to stop them.
Number of Pages: 400
Age Range: 14-16
Review: Wrapped in a vivid fantasy-genre story about two teens from different lands is wisdom and insight applicable to modern day life as Lena Coakley tackles religion, racism, gender equality and class systems through her novel, Witchlanders. Coakley’s talented writing immediately immerses her reader into a world where mystical powers are real and people can shake bones to predict the future and sing spells into existence.
And yet it’s relatable. Ryder’s tale begins with his family life. His father has died and he is taking care of the farm as best he can while also trying to stop his mother from taking Maiden’s Woe, a powerful narcotic type plant that she says helps her see the future. Ryder is focussed on taking care of his family at all costs, but when that means he has to leave them to defend the community he is willing to do so for their ultimate good.
As for Falpian, the disappointment of his father and the death of his twin brother weigh on him heavily. It takes courage for him to not allow himself to be killed to start a war as his father intends, and being open to collaborating with a Witchlander takes a lot of empathy and a willingness to see the bigger picture without turning away in fear.
I loved the mystery surrounding the deities and the lengths the witches go to in their efforts to cover up the truth. If the Baens and Witchlanders were allies instead of enemies, would they each have a talat-sa? What an incredible idea to promote understanding between the peoples as each person shares their talat-sa’s memories and experiences! Since each group has their own deity/deities and one seems to be bent on putting women down at all costs (read my Memorable Quotes section, Coakley’s portrayal of this is so powerful and filled with hatred it is frightening) I would think being able to see into another person’s mind would be the best way to make them see the other side of things.
I was so disappointed to read there is no Witchlanders sequel in the works, because reading Coakley’s book for the second time just reminded me how much I love the story and of my desire to know more about Kar and the Goddesses. I love the little snippets of backstory Coakley provides through her quotes from The Magician’s Echiridion, and this is definitely one of those times where I am jealous of a writer for being able to invent such a rich world and having access to it all of the time. I won’t know more about the Witchlanders and the Baens unless Coakley writes another book, but Coakley created her characters and can think about the other adventures they might have whenever she wants.
My favourite character was Bo, the dreadhound, because he’s so loyal even when Falpian is convinced he is being loyal to the wrong person. Plus I just loved Coakley’s description of him being a bundle of fur in the beginning. Easy to imagine, and so endearing. Coakley’s description of Falpian being caught in a tunnel with a large number of spiders was also vivid, but not endearing as it made my skin crawl.
As I recall, this was a book that did well on the White Pine reading list, and it is one I would recommend to male and female readers alike. Even if you’re not usually a fantasy reader, Coakley’s writing transcends the genre and is highly enjoyable for all.
“Skyla was singing softly to Pima in the other room – a lullaby of Fa’s – and without warning, a feeling of loss pierced him. He’d become used to it since Fa died, surprise attacks of emotions that came out of nowhere, left him breathless. But he realized it wasn’t his father that he was missing so painfully at this moment. It was his mother. His mother as she used to be. Mabis had been like iron once. She’d been like stone. Nothing could break her. And he’d felt entirely safe.” – Ryder from Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, page 10
“Mabis pursed her lips and stared into the flames. After a while she took his arm again, gently this time. ‘You know, Ryder,’ she said. ‘There is a lot more to the world than what you can see. Sometimes I think it was very wrong of me not to teach you that.'” – Mabis from Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, page 35
“The mission was on course, he tried to tell himself firmly. His father wanted him to die, and he was going to do it. His father wanted to make it look as if Falpian had been killed by witches, and now he really was going to be killed by witches. Missions weren’t supposed to be easy, after all.” – Falpian from Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, page 209
“Cursed are those who believe in a Goddess, who cannot see that a world created by a woman would be a backward place, that rivers would run uphill, animals would rule over humans, the sun would give off darkness instead of light.
But worse still is the Baen woman who tries to sing.
Remove her from the company of other women. Cut out her voice, and fill her mouth with mud.
Make her silent.” – The Magician’s Echiridion from Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, page 229
“Skyla buried her face in the shoulder of his reds and let out a sob. ‘I thought the people here would be like Fa. He knew. He knew there was some kind of magic running through the world’s veins. He could feel it.’ She tood back and wiped her eyes. ‘He made me feel it too. He taught me that the whole world was a holy place. That’s why he loved our old farm, loved the dirt under his feet. Everything was magic to him.'” – Skyla from Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, page 312
“No, Falpian thought. No, no. ‘Please. You have the wrong person.’ There was desperation in his voice now. ‘I don’t want to hurt people. I’m not like you. I – I don’t have an assassin’s heart.’
The witch’s face softened into something like pity. ‘Do you think anyone is born a killer? Do you think I was? Trust me, I know what I’m asking. An assassin’s first murder is himself. He kills the man he was.’ Falpian gave a little start, thinking of his father. Had he killed the man he was?” – Conversation between Falpian and a witch from Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, page 337