RATING: 2/5 stars
This review contains spoilers. Please see my Goodreads post for a non-spoilered review! Link: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4031502211?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD by Ciannon Smart is a young adult fantasy novel about two witches working together in a “deadly alliance” to take down the ruler of their island nation. Only… none of that actually begins to happen until about 300 pages into the book, out of a total of around 500 pages. So, what happens in that first 60%?
We’re first introduced to the Alumbrar witch Jazmyne Cariot, daughter of the doyenne (the ruler of the island nation), and we’re quick to find out she’s working with people who want her to replace her mother as ruler. Only, Jazmyne doesn’t want to become doyenne–she doesn’t think she’s ready.
Next, part of the opposing class of Obeah witches, we meet Iraya Adair, the “Lost Empress” and daughter of the former Empress Adair. Her lineage gives her special powers, but in order to gain those powers, she must first escape prison. Like Jazmyne, everyone wants Iraya to take her rightful place as Empress. But Iraya doesn’t want to rule.
Over the course of the next two hundred or so pages, we watch as Jazmyne struggles with balancing her relationship with the Nameless, the group trying to overthrow the doyenne, and her duties as Emissary. Iraya has regained her magic, but is a prisoner once again–and this time held in the captivity of the doyenne, where she’s living on palace grounds with other Obeah witches. Nothing particularly compelling happens, and these pages are so sluggish to read through that it took me nearly a month to read what I usually can in a few days.
Then, about two hundred pages in, Jazmyne decides she’s ready to overthrow the doyenne, and her only way of doing so is by working with Iraya. But then, instead of actually taking action, it takes another hundred pages for anything to happen. At around 300 pages, they finally make an alliance through a vow that, if broken, will result in death.
And this is where I stopped reading.
Let me quote for you the final paragraph inside of the book’s jacket: “Sworn enemies, the two witches enter a deadly alliance to take down the woman who threatens both their worlds. But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths Iraya and Jazmyne will go to win this game.” The premise of the novel promises this alliance of the enemy witches. But that doesn’t actually happen until over the halfway mark.
If the first half of the novel was page-turning, that’s something I could let slide. But it’s not. The pacing is completely off, and there’s nothing that makes me want to keep reading. And not only that, but the fact that I kept reading in small increments out of boredom only intensified the other bad thing about the book: that I couldn’t tell the POVs apart.
You can tell a book is good and the characters are strong when you can immediately tell which character is narrating through one or two lines. The characters’ voices should be distinct enough that I don’t have to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to see which POV it’s in–which is exactly what I had to do with WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD. Iraya and Jazmyne’s voices sound pretty much the same, and the main difference between their chapters was their settings and the way they called people. Pretty much nothing else. This made it a very confusing read, especially when it took me so long to get through each chapter.
Overall, the only thing I really liked about the book was the worldbuilding. Ciannon Smart does an excellent job of creating a vibrant world with beautiful descriptions that allowed me to visualize everything crystal clear in my mind.
Other than that… well, I stopped reading the book for a reason. I will note that many reviews on Goodreads commented on how everything sped up in the last hundred pages. But that’s not enough for me. The novel, while it doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-paced, should be page-turning enough to make me not want to put it down. And WITCHES STEEPED IN GOLD, unfortunately, was far from that.
I really wanted to love this book. I loved the blurb, and I loved the cover. I even have two copies of it, both signed, and one special edition. But unfortunately, this is one that didn’t live up to the expectations I–and other readers–had set to it and is one of the few books that I didn’t finish.
I believe there is a sequel coming, but I will not be reading it. That said, I hope Ciannon Smart has better luck on her future books, and if she comes out with a new series, I’ll try her works out again.