January 28, 2013


by Lena Coakley
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster
400 pp.
Ages 12+

The border between the Witchlands, the home of the Witchlanders, and the Bitterlands, the home of the Baen, seems inconsequential compared to the hostility between the two peoples.  While the fair-haired people who honour the Goddess and the twin prophets Aata and Aayse pay tithes to the witches of the coven, the Baens (reviled as "blackhairs") honour Ka and revere the black magicians, all male.  And now, regardless of the treaty between the Witchlanders and the Baen, a war is brewing.

In the Witchlands, Mabis, mother of Ryder and his younger sisters Skyla and Pima, is known for throwing the bones and using maiden's woe to assist her with visions.  Though she speaks of an assassin coming from across the border (but tells the coven that a monster would come out of the ground and swallow whole farms), Mabis cannot summon the witches to action.   In fact, when human-like monsters made of dirt destroy their farm, and the witches blame Mabis, Ryder is determined to cross the border and find the Baen who has started the troubles. 

Meanwhile, in the Bitterlands, another young man, Falpian, has been sent away by his father instead of preparing for battle with the other men.  Though he is told to continue his mourning for his twin brother Farien and prepare himself for a mission detailed in a scroll, Falpian suspects it has more to do with Father's disappointment in his inability to work magic with song.  Surprisingly, Falpian locates an ancient stone from which he is able to sing, ostensibly harmonizing with his echo, and make magic.

When Falpian discovers an unconscious Ryder, the two young men attempt to resolve the discrepancy between what they each know of the other's people and their affinity to each other.  This discrepancy continues to spur Falpian and Ryder through assassination attempts, deceptions, attacks by the dirt monsters, capture, rescue and confusion, learning that all is not what it seems or has been portrayed.

Lena Coakley has created a phantasmagorical world of people rife with prejudices and bitterness borne of history and manipulation.  Although magic is created with harmonizing song, their land growing hicca and maiden's woe, and their societies based on unique features, the characters are sadly familiar to our own.  And, even though Falpian finally relents that "There are no sides" (pg. 377), the nature of the conflict in Witchlanders unravels and regenerates both in familiar and unexpected ways.  Though Lena Coakley has not confirmed a sequel to Witchlanders, its final scene serves to achieve a gratifying conclusion while setting up the premise upon which a promising sequel can build.

A great book trailer for Witchlanders uploaded by Lena Coakley to YouTube on July 12, 2011 can be seen on CanLit for LittleCanadians Book Trailers here.

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