Thank you to Ciannon Smart and HarperTeen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
Book: Witches Steeped in Gold
Summary (click for dropdown)
Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.
Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.
Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths they will go to win this game.
This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes.
Author: Ciannon Smart
Year Published: 2021
- Plot: 4/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Writing: 4.5/5
- Overall: 4/5
When I picked up this book I had no idea what to expect but I was extremely excited to read it- luckily, it definitely delivered. A Jamaican-inspired young adult fantasy full of intrigue, action, scheming and compelling characters, Witches Steeped in Gold bewitched me from the first page until the very last.
The plot revolved around two witches who belonged to enemy orders: Jazmyne who belonged to the Alumbrar order and Iraya who belonged to the Obeah order. The story alternated between both of their perspectives as they entered into a precarious alliance to achieve a shared goal.
Jazmyne started off quite indecisive and afraid of taking action against her mother who was the doyenne of Aiyca- despite finding her rule unjust. As the story progressed it was interesting to see her realise that she had power and watch her learn how to wield it and stand her own ground. What was more interesting still was how her taste of power obscured her initial noble intentions and she sank lower and lower to hold onto it at any cost. She pretty much had a corruption arc and the irony wasn’t lost on me that she became exactly what she started off fighting against. I didn’t like Jazmyne much at all by the end but that isn’t a criticism of the book- she was extremely interesting to read about. I have to say though, Jazmyne’s romance sub plot was extremely lacklustre and boring– I feel like the book would have been better of without it.
For me, Iraya was a more likeable character despite her tendency to act rashly (it was honestly painful to watch her keep acting impulsively and making the worst choices) and avoid responsibility in the misguided belief it will keep people safe. Her constant internal conflict revolved around her trying to reconcile people’s expectations of her and her own desires and hopes, her duty to honour the dead and her duty to do right by the living. Unlike Jazmyne, I feel like she had more selfish motivations in the start but as the book progressed they became more selfless as her sense of responsibility towards her people grew. Iraya’s romance sub plot was a lot more interesting and while it definitely was a bit cliché, I found the way her relationship with Kirdan developed very entertaining.
Both Iraya and Jazmyne’s perspectives had distinct voices and personalities and switching between them made the tone of the book more dynamic. As the book progressed, Iraya began to realise that she could let people help her and that she didn’t have to carry the burden alone to succeed whereas Jazmyne began to realise that she couldn’t rely on the people she trusted. I thought it was clever how Iraya surrounding herself with more people and opening up was contrasted with Jazmyne becoming more isolated and closed off. It was chilling how by the end of the book they had both become what they were most afraid of at the start.
My favourite aspect of the book was that we are shown the perspectives of both the Alumbrar and Obeah in a way that makes it impossible to ‘pick a side’ because neither is fully good or evil. Whilst I was reading I felt quite anxious wondering if they would put aside their differences or if one side would come out on top in the end and how I would feel about the possible outcomes. The story emphasised how subjective notions of heroism and villainy are as Jazmyne and Iraya walked the knife edge between the two, thinking that they were breaking the cycles of hatred and violence while unknowingly perpetuating them. A part of what makes this story compelling is that there are no heroes or villains… there are just people like you and me doing what they think is best for themselves and those around them.
I adored the world Smart created. It was nuanced, exciting and full of vicious beauty. I loved the Jamaican influences, the intricate lore and traditions and it all felt very immersive and put together with love and care. I liked how the Obeah and Alumbrar magic systems were contrasted and the way these systems directly influenced and were influenced by the wider society- I especially liked the idea of gold being the conduit for magic.
Overall, the plot was twisty- driven by scheming and betrayals. However, the first half of the book was quite slow paced and the plot took a while to really get going. I do think this was necessary to set up the world, the characters and the stakes but if you dislike books structured like this then I don’t think this book will be for you. The main reason that this was a four star read not a five star read was that while I was engaged in the story and wanted to know what would happen I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I wanted to be.
Witches Steeped in Gold was a compelling read that I highly recommend, perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes. The book ended in a strong place and set everything up nicely for the next book so I think the sequel has a lot of potential to be a five star read and I’m very excited to read it!