Witchlanders by Lena Coakley – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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.

You can read an excerpt here.


Wow. Witchlanders may be Lena Coakley’s first foray into YA, but it leaves no doubt – this author is here to stay.

Like any card carrying Robin McKinley fan, I love nothing more than a story of characters caught between two worlds – and Witchlanders has so much depth and breadth in how it explores people caught between, be it between the two sides of a war, with all the pain and history therein, or the two sides of a family struggle, with all the tangles of faith and loyalty, or the internal struggle between the two sides of both our main characters, as they grapple with what they want and what they must do. There are so many delicious layers to this story, such a richness of character conflict and world building, that it just about left me breathless.

As you might expect, the two narrators of this story, Ryder and Falpian, hail from different sides of the border – Ryder from the Witchlands and Falpian from Baen. This certainly won’t be the first time you’ve read a story about enemies who become friends, but these two characters have so much going on internally, with their history, family, loyalties and pride all coming into play, that it is absolutely and utterly compelling to watch them collide. I loved how by switching back and forth between Ryder and Falpian, Coakley was able to play off the prejudices and misinformation these two have about each other, and challenge them each in turn. You may think you’ve read this story before, but you haven’t read it like this – in terms of execution and originality, this book easily stands on its own two feet.

Also, I have to admit, it was so very refreshing to read a story that explores a world outside the realm of romance. Magic and intrigue, family and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, there is such a bevy of interesting things going on in this book that I honestly didn’t even realize there was no romance until well after I was finished. It just doesn’t need it.

I also absolutely loved the pacing of reveals throughout this book. It’s not a pell-mell, romp of a story, but this book doesn’t let up – it gives us just enough but not too much, slowly unmasking more and more about history and magic, lies and truth, as it builds to the climactic reveal (which absolutely delivers). The plotting kept me riveted.

So many layers and textures, so deftly woven together – the richness of Witchlanders is boggling. Definitely a book not to be missed.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Exquisite storytelling plus atmospheric worldbuilding equals one stunning teen debut…A sequel to this thought-provoking fantasy is certain, as is a broad fan base.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

In her first novel, picture book author Coakley (Mrs. Goodhearth and the Gargoyle) takes on faith, doubt, and dualities, exposing their flaws and strengths alike. Plot twists unfold at a riveting pace, the boys’ characters are compellingly sketched, and Coakley explores her subject matter masterfully without falling prey to safe plot choices

Tynga’s Reviews says:

The plot was rather slow at first, I must admit, but picks up when Falpian & Ryder finally meet. Their relationship is intricate and interesting on so many levels…Different, magical and gripping, Witchlanders will swipe you off your feet and draw you in a fantastic and dangerous world where bedtime monsters are out to get you. The end is a killer cliffhanger and I can’t wait to know what comes next.