Defender of Histories, book cover featuring a blue flowers against a sparkly, enlighted background
Book Reviews

Book Review: Defender of Histories (The Witness Tree Chronicles, #1) by Haley Walden

Overall opinion: A lovely tale of inner strength, friendship, loss and the start of a journey. An adventure like no other, in a YA fantasy book that’s pleasantly enjoyable even for an adult reader.

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

“Lira relished fitting pieces of Iathum’s history together like a puzzle—working each new bit of information into the whole, connecting catalysts and events across families and centuries.”

Title: Defender of Histories
Author: Haley Walden
Publisher: Haley Walden
Publication date: January 28, 2020 (free excerpt available)
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: The Witness Tree Chronicles, #1
Goodreads: link link
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
(Leggi questa recensione in italiano)

Summary (short & sweet)

Young, introvert archivist Silira Mór only has one dream: to become a great archivist and spend the rest of her life among her beloved books and manuscripts. But things change when, one day, she gets to meet the Rì in the Archive and finds out that not all things that she’s given for granted to date are what they seem. That’s the start of strange, life turning journey towards a secret destiny that Lira doesn’t fully understand yet.

The Backstory for My Defender of Histories Book Review

How did I get my hands on the ARC for Defender of Histories?

In November 2019, I found Haley Walden on Twitter while typing “looking for ARC readers” in the search box.

I was on the lookout for some inspiring ARCs that would spice up my passion for reading Fantasy while I was also busy around my SciFi writing projects. You know, that healthy time away from the genre you’ve been working on a while. That’s the writer’s life, ah!

So well… it was love at first read: Walden’s prose from the free excerpt grabbed me so big that I couldn’t wait for the actual ARC to read!

Conversation with the author - Defender of Histories book review

I received the book around November 11 and I bookstagrammed it pretty quickly. 😀 With the old temporary cover:

I have to say I fell in love with the idea behind the plot before I even fell in love with the characters.

Think about this:

I love paleography and philology: discovering the secrets of ancient manuscripts and the impact they had on the history of societies, and how critical a role they played in the evolution of languages, are all elements that you can find in Defender of Histories, narrated with a level of detail that would attract the attention of even a scholar looking for an entertaining read between an old scroll to study and another.

[Image: low light photo of ancient books]
Ancient books… aren’t they beauty! *o* – Photo by SuzyHazelwood
Sure, I’m a humble human with some writing ambitions and nothing else, and I’m certainly not a scholar, but I adore getting my nose and hands into old books (I’m not allowed to touch manuscripts) in public libraries.

In another life, I would be a librarian. Heck, I could still do that if only I didn’t love my job as an artisan and workshop so so much!

And here I get the honor to read of a fictional amanuensis archivist, Silira Mór, who’s set to deal with secrets and histories greater than the archive she works at.

I was thrilled!

Haley Walden featured me on Instagram and Twitter! - Defender of Histories Book Review

The Actual Defender of Histories Book Review

Let’s get to the actual book review for Defender of Histories, shall we? 😉

(I tend to get way too excited when it comes to cool books and cool authors. Sorry!)

Lia Dospetting holding her tablet with the book cover - Defender of Histories Book Review

(And just in case you don’t want to read the whole review, here’s the video review from my booktube channel:)

Haley Walden’s writing style is smooth, sleek and engaging. It’s hard to stop reading once you’ve got into the flow — and you get there pretty soon. The prose is enjoyable to read and every word triggers you to want to learn more about what’s going to happen next.

It doesn’t surprise me, since the author is also a copywriter, and in copywriting, every word matters and no words are superfluous.

The main characters are introduced in the first chapters, then we get to know other characters who have an important role in the story as the narration progresses.

Our four main people are:

  • Silira Mór is the story protagonist, the heroine who doesn’t feel superior just because she has a destiny to fulfill. It might have happened to anyone, right?
  • Aidryn Tarlach is her long-time best friend and confidant, a talented archivist and… perhaps some more?
  • Eremon is the Rì of Iathum, the ruler. And a loving, kind person through and through.
  • Caitir is Aidryn’s younger sister and she’s very close with Silira.

An aspect of Defender of Histories that I appreciated is the slow worldbuilding uncovering as the narration proceeds, something that I already appreciated in Ryan Graudin’s Invictus. It pleased me that I couldn’t find any elements of the setting to clash with the idea that Walden wanted to give us of the characters and their society (clans and tribes).

The world Lira, Aidryn and the others live in is of a medieval setting, circa 1500 AD. Iathum is the capital of the great Rodhlan region and has its own regnants — the Rìs — that administer their subjects with mercy or tyranny according to the historical era.

There’s no electricity, no contemporary commodity. It’s the simple life of someone born between 1000 and 1500 AD — with some extra magical powers.

As for the themes of the narration, we have a few:

  • The journey of an introvert toward the discovering of her destiny
  • The hidden secrets behind the Rì’s family and their powers
  • Personal growth, the disruption of dreams and illusions to uncover what’s been hidden
  • Love, friendship, betrayal, depression

I felt that Walden tackled each theme with depth and sensitivity, leaving readers with no disappointing questions on how this and that happened and why.

There is a warmth to the prose, that makes the story itself and the characters feel like ones of your own family.

And to end my review, here’s my favorite quote by one of my favorite characters in the book (I’m not going to spoil who, sorry! Once you read the book, you’ll find out):

“You have to ask these questions, even if they lead you to a possibility you don’t want to think about. It doesn’t make you a bad person to consider all angles or to question who you’re willing to put your trust in.”

Conclusion of My Defender of Histories Book Review & Personal Comments

By this time, I perceive the author as a good friend. Haley Walden is the sweetest, most honest and open author I’ve ever talked to before. And… I’ve been fangirling over her characters like crazy on Instagram chats! 😀 I hope she forgives me for that.

(And my fanart below… because yes, I went that far 😛 )

Eremon and Silira kissing - Defender of Histories fanart
Also on my DeviantART

Hopefully we can meet her in real life one day, so I can get a future print copy Defender of Histories signed (I know, that will break my anonymity, but perhaps I can do things in a way that no one else knows but her? LOL)

This is my first Walden book. Trust me when I say I will read more of her work in the future, not only the whole The Witness Chronicle saga as it gets released — and I’ll get mad if she stops writing somewhere along her career.

Haley, you touched my heart of a reader (and a writer, too). Now you not to not disappoint it. 😉

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend Defender of Histories to Fantasy and YA lovers, and all people with a passion for historical reconstruction from documents, paleography and philology.

Reading & Watching Recommendations

If you enjoyed The Librarian movies, I think you’ll just love Defender of Histories. 😀

At the same time, if you haven’t watched the movies yet, read Walden’s book and then go rent a DVD or watch them in streaming! They’re a lot of (nerdy) fun.

Other good movies to watch before or after reading Walden’s novel are Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Sissi (1955) and Indiana Jones.

Thank you so much for reading my Defender of Histories book review! I appreciate you getting this far. You rock!

Like this blog? Now you can support Lia Mara Dospetti and her SciFi web series on Patreon!

Booklover. Hobby artist. Author of the Rolamaton the Robocity webseries. Also author of short stories and novels for upcoming publication. Countryside demigirl who works as an artisan in her daily life. Currently in a happy relationship. Come say hi on Twitter @dospetti and Instagram @liabooklover


    • Lia Mara Dospetti

      I simply LOVED it, Haley! 😀 Can’t wait to read the sequel… but of course I will wait. Take your time. ♥ I know it’s going to be another great read!

      Thanks again — and for the comment(s) and shares, too!

    • Lia Mara Dospetti

      Be warned: it’s going to be tough to stop turning pages. Every time I said to myself “I’ll finish this chapter and then I’m going to do something else”… I ended up still there, reading more and more. It’s unputdownable.

      If you choose to read it, happy reading! :3

  • Carolyn

    An excellent review! I’m a sucker for YA fantasy (I narrate audiobooks, and YA fantasy is always the most fun to do). And any that can do detailed world building…I’m hooked! Will definitely check out the book. Thanks for the review!

    • Lia Mara Dospetti

      Oh wow! An audiobook narrator! 😀 I’m so honored to get your comment on my humble review. (Thanks for loving it!) YA fantasy is awesome when it’s well written with relatable characters, and Walden’s prose is fantastic. I strongly recommend it.

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