Iraya Adair has spent her life in a cell. Heir of an overthrown and magically-gifted dynasty, she was exiled from the island nation of Aiyca. 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 Jazmyne has no intention of dying.
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.
Length: 533 pages
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Content warning: child abuse
Witches Steeped in Gold was one of my most anticipated books of 2021. The tagline, Jamaican-inspired witches, really intrigued me, as it’s not something I’ve seen done before. I think the diversification of the fantasy-genre is long overdue. I really wanted to like this book. But I just found certain elements that I didn’t like overpowered the good points.
I’ll start with what I liked. The magic system in this book, while complex, is really interesting. The two rival orders of witches in the novel have different ways of inheriting magic, but they both access magic through the use of gold. It felt like a really unique magic system, and something I wish had been explored more in the story.
I liked the world as well. The society in Witches Steeped in Gold is a matriarchy, which, again, is a welcome change from most patriarchal-based fantasy novels I’ve read. Women really rule the roost in this story. There are only a couple of male characters in the book, and only one that could be called a main character. I really liked this aspect of the story.
But that’s about all I liked, unfortunately. I will say that some of the things I didn’t like are highly subjective. I’ve read a lot of YA fantasy novels in my time, so I’m very familiar with the common tropes and cliches within the genre. For me, the constant referring to ‘training’ and ‘missions’ in this story felt really irritating. There seemed to be little purpose to it, other than to keep Iraya in a certain place and allow her to develop her magic and skills.
The biggest thing that affected my enjoyment of the story though, was the lack of characterisation. The book is told from both Iraya’s and Jazmyne’s first-person point of view, alternating throughout. I struggled to tell them apart. I didn’t connect to either of them because they didn’t feel like real people. They felt like talking heads, serving the plot, rather than real people driving the plot. So I didn’t care, and by the end I just wanted the story to be over.
There are a lot of plot twists in the final few chapters, so the lack of caring about the characters was a shame. If I’d cared more about the characters, the ending would have shocked me. The plot itself is a slow build-up. It isn’t until about halfway through that the story really starts to get going. Then it sort of stalls and it’s another few chapters before the action really begins.
The writing style also wasn’t for me. It’s quite overdramatic, especially in the dialogue tags. It really does feel like the type of writing, and storytelling, that I’d expect from someone really new to writing. And perhaps that is the main problem here. Someone obviously deemed the book good enough to publish. However, I wonder if Ciannon Smart had developed more as a writer before publication, the book could have been better. I don’t know about her history, but this is what I’m surmising from reading this book.
I think if you’re a reader who is relatively new to YA fantasy, you might enjoy Witches Steeped in Gold much more than I did. It’s such a unique world with a different magic system, that I think it’s worth a go if you don’t mind the overdone YA tropes. I won’t be reading any more in the series, but I do feel like Smart is a writer who will get better with time.