Witches Steeped in Gold (Witches Steeped in Gold #1) by Ciannon Smart
Island politics is the setting in this alternate world setting where we are plunged directly into the POV of a prisoner in a group of oppressed minority (Obeah) who are about to be simultaneously given access to their ancestral magic and conscripted into a defensive force for the Doyenne who recently rebelled, overturned their Doyen, and has now instituted a sacrifice (Yielding) to prop up the defensive magic for the entire island (Aiyca) that utilizes witches from her own group, the Alumbrar. This prisoner, Ira, is actually a child of the former ruling family, and has some kind of understanding with the other Obeah prisoners to try to rebel– but it doesn’t go well.
And that part was kind of murky for me. Since I was still finding my bearings in terms of the world, the characters, the references to past actions, the book-specific use of words like Doyen, bag-o-wires, etc. what historical real world culture the story has roots in (Jamaica), the beginning of the book didn’t immediately hook me into Ira. Then we changed POV to the daughter of the current Doyenne, Jazmyne, who is focused on the wrongness of the Yielding and wanting to stop her mother from becoming a tyrant.
Ira and Jazmyne meet, decide to ally, and then there’s lots of political developments, including Ira having a tricky relationship with another band of rebels, the Jade Guild and Jazmyne a risky alliance with a powerful Pirate who ruled the ocean around Aiyca.
The magic system is a little loosey-goosey in the details. There’s inherent magic, magic given by ancestors, magic that your first-born daughter inherits from you, sigils, etc. Although Ira is limited by sigils and vows she makes in the name of gods, her magic seems to be there anyway sometimes and sometimes not, depending on plot developments.
Still, the world here, and definitely the backstory of the main characters is rich and interesting. We meet Ira and Jazmyne when they have already been forged by tragic pasts and come to the conclusion that political maneuvering against the Doyenne is necessary by separate routes. There’s also potential love interests in an emissary from another island (with his own magic of teleportation, or sifting) and a pirate henchman to spice things up.
I might follow this story into the second book based solely on the richness of the world/history, despite being a little frustrated by Ira and Jazmyne seemingly making somewhat clueless decisions and the uneven (in my understanding) display of Ira’s magic.