Author: Ciannon Smart
Release date: 20 April 2021
Publisher: HarperTeen (US); Hot Key Books (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Political
Trust no witch…
Iraya Adair has spent her life in a cell. Heir of an overthrown and magically-gifted dynasty, she was exiled from her home on the island nation of Aiyca when she was just a child. But every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance. Jazmyne Cariot grew up dressed in gold, with stolen magic at her fingertips. Daughter of the self-crowned doyenne, her existence is a threat to her mother’s rule. But unlike her sister, Jazmyne has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
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. Two witches. One motive. And a very untrustworthy alliance.
Does anyone remember that shiny ARC with gold foil on top of lush, dark green background? That was my very first impression of Witches Steeped in Gold. Many people had recommended this book to me, and I’d found its dark, morally-grey nature to be its biggest draw along with it being a Crossover book. This is a Young Adult book, but I think adult readers in the SFF genre would also enjoy this book.
Witches Steeped in Gold is a Jamaican-inspired fantasy, deeply steeped in political intrigues and blood-soaked history that bursts to life through its pages. I would not speak to how much Jamaican influence this book had since I am not from a Jamaican background and thus it would not be my place to assess it; but from the magic system to conversations between characters, the worldbuilding felt thoroughly complete and realised. The magic system itself, is a truly unique and amazing one influenced by the novel’s background history and instrumental to its narrative. I also loved how it helped setting up the divide between the Alumbrar and the Obeah, the two factions at odds with each other and it just really adds a thrall to the conflict in a way I could not quite put to words.
Most of all, however, Witches Steeped in Gold is a book about shifting loyalties, betrayal, and a perpetual state of paranoia, not knowing who to trust. Even I as a reader could not find anything trustworthy about the two main characters. I was on edge the entire time I was reading it, always expecting a betrayal round the corner.
Speaking of untrustworthy protagonists, it was such a breath of fresh air to read morally grey, (definitely) chaotic neutral characters whose alignment shift according to the means they need to take for their own ends. From the Alumbrar’s side, there’s Jazmyne with such an intriguing character arc that I kind of saw coming but not quite the way it did in this novel. Iraya, from the Obeah, is a distrustful and reckless warrior who would at times score top of the class for terrible, terrible choices somehow both selfish and selfless. United by a mutual endgame—revenge—they come together in an alliance so precarious they couldn’t help but scheme against each other as well in true Killing Eve fashion. Juggling their fragile alliance, the strong draw they have for each other, and their own fears of what they’d become in their pursuit for their own brand of justice, the two walk a thin, fine line—a razor edge, if you will—between hero and villain.
Even the side characters exuded an air full of mystery and intrigue. Kirdan, especially, was an enigma no one could quite figure out most of the time and he bides his time in the mystery until it was time for him to make his move. When he finally did, my breath legit escaped my lips the way it did Jazmyne and Ira’s. I hope we’ll get to see more of his story in the sequel.
This book takes off at such rapid speed from beginning to end, even as it establishes its foundations. Smart is incredibly generous with her twists and turns at a breakneck pace, the adventure within Witches Steeped in Gold‘s pages becomes truly addictive one would develop a rabid need to find out what would happen next.
I came in with high expectations for Witches Steeped in Gold, and it delivered! I must be on a lucky streak, the books I’ve read so far struck me right and it’s starting to scare me. This book is simply amazing! Right from its first page, its claws dug deep in me and did not let go for even a second. Smart’s characters are complex, beautifully layered navigating through a dangerous game of betray or be betrayed, forced to flip their morality back and forth as means to their respective ends. While the two primary witches in the book are fundamentally at odds with each other, it is practically impossible to pick a side.
Witches Steeped in Gold is a brilliant, dark, and evocative debut that breathes a world where blind trust and loyalty mean certain death, and betrayal is the only currency of worth. Conflicting motivations come to a head, and Smart’s characters walk a razor edge between hero and villain as they juggle between their fraught loyalties, their goals, and their strong draw to each other.
Morally grey, tense, full of dread and dark imagery; this book checks all the right boxes for me in such a fascinating fashion. I have little doubt that fans of the TV show Killing Eve and Rena Barron’s equally twisty thriller fantasy epic Kingdom of Souls would find themselves enamoured by Ciannon Smart’s breathtaking Witches Steeped in Gold.
My many thanks to Frenzy without whom I would not have been able to review Witches Steeped in Gold! I received a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.