ARC Review: WITHERWARD by Hannah Mathewson

I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in blue on grey-blue next to image on girl in front of cityscape
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Yes - first book in duology


Book cover for WITHERWARD: title in blue above a mirrored image of a city and a girl

Welcome to the Witherward, and to a London that is not quite like our own. Here, it’s summertime in February, the Underground is a cavern of wonders and magic fills the streets. But this London is a city divided, split between six rival magical factions, each with their own extraordinary talents – and the alpha of the Changelings, Gedeon Ravenswood, has gone rogue, threatening the fragile accords that have held London together for decades.

Ilsa is a shapeshifting Changeling who has spent the first 17 years of her life marooned in the wrong London, where real magic is reviled as the devil’s work. Abandoned at birth, she has scratched out a living first as a pickpocket and then as a stage magician’s assistant, dazzling audiences by secretly using her Changeling talents to perform impossible illusions. When she’s dragged through a portal into the Witherward, Ilsa finally feels like she belongs.

But her new home is on the brink of civil war, and Ilsa is pulled into the fray. The only way to save London is to track down Gedeon, and he just so happens to be Ilsa’s long-lost brother, one of the last surviving members of the family who stranded her in the wrong world. Beset by enemies on all sides, surrounded by supposed Changeling allies wearing faces that may not be their own, Ilsa must use all the tricks up her sleeve simply to stay alive.

Review taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


WITHERWARD is a fun, portal fantasy debut about a divided, magical London, and a girl who suddenly finds it exists – and that her new home is under threat.

I really liked that, once we were in Witherward (the magical London), there were still sequences that happened back in “our” London. There are a lot of portal fantasies that just move to another realm and stay there, but this book didn’t do that, and we got to see the consequences of Ilsa leaving, plus her returning with new knowledge to face down her past.

The pacing was a little on the slower side as there was an mystery undercurrent about what Gedeon wanted, and who was the leader of the shadowy society making life extra complicated. There were lots of clues and red-herrings scattered throughout the book, forming new parts of the puzzle to slowly build up the picture. It was really well done.

There were quite a few characters in the new world, particularly the council of lieutenants protecting the part of Witherward Ilsa came from. They all had their tensions and secrets, and watching their various characters interact was a lot of fun. I mistrusted a lot of them, and wanted Ilsa to discover their secrets in case some were colluding against her. And then there was Fyfe, who was the scatterbrained, intelligent inventor who was a lot of fun and stole a lot of scenes!

Ilsa’s voice was so distinct from the people she interacted with in Witherward. She was very much your working class Londoner and they were posh. It helped set her apart from them, marking her as an outsider to throw their lives into disarray. Being an outsider, she could naturally ask clarifying questions, which allowed the world building to come across without being an info-dump of exposition.

It is a YA duology, but without a big cliffhanger ending that is so common at the moment. The main plot is neatly revolved, but there are threads hanging, and the world has had to change, so I will be intrigued to see what happens next in 2022.


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