Review: Witch King by Martha Wells

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Martha Wells has been an SF/F writer since her first fantasy novel was published in 1993, and her work includes The Books of the Raksura series, The Death of the Necromancer, the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, The Murderbot Diaries series, media tie-in fiction for Star Wars, Stargate: Atlantis, and Magic: the Gathering, as well as short fiction, YA novels, and non-fiction. She has won Nebula Awards, Hugo Awards, and Locus Awards, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the BSFA Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. She is a member of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and her books have been published in twenty-five languages.



FORMAT/INFO:
Witch King will be published on May 30th, 2023. It is 414 pages split over sixteen chapters. It is told in third person from Kai’s point of view. It is available in ebook, hardcover, and audiobook format.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Kai-Enna is used to a lot of unusual situations. A demon who has had multiple bodies, he’s seen empires rise and fall; being entombed in a magical trap for nearly a year, however, is not an experience he’d like to repeat. Freed by those who hoped to exploit his magic, Kai and his companion, the witch Ziede, quickly begin looking for the rest of their missing companions. As they uncover clues about their friends’ fates, two things become clear: whoever betrayed them has some scheme in mind for an upcoming treaty renewal, and unraveling this whole conspiracy is going to take Kai and Ziede to places they’d both hoped they’d never return to.

Witch King is an unusual fantasy, one that will draw you in with its fascinating world and cultures, but perhaps leave you a bit perplexed as to where it’s all going. To start with the positive, I was absolutely entranced by the beginning of this tale; I devoured the first 150ish pages in just a few sittings. Puzzling out the circumstances that led to Kai’s imprisonment, the world politics, how the magic works teased my brain in the best way, and I enjoyed watching the picture slowly being colored in.

Where I began to struggle was when it became clear that this was not the kind of fantasy that was going to give you a complete picture. The characters rarely give you any exposition; either you pull together context clues or it’s not relevant for the immediate story at hand. What, exactly, is an Immortal Blessed? Couldn’t tell you more than that it appears to be a highly powerful individual, possibly akin to a race of angels. The magic is amorphous, with a lot of the nuance coming from HOW the magic is sourced; again, there is a lot that goes unexplained. Some readers are going to revel in this uncertainty; me, I wanted things a little more concretely nailed down. (And I say this as someone who usually doesn’t mind getting thrown into the deep end of world-building.)

The plot itself alternates between two periods of Kai’s life: his origins and the events that first united him with his companions, and “present day” where Kai is trying to find those of his companions who are missing in the wake of his betrayal. Again, I was initially on board for the structure, but eventually struggled to keep the two timelines straight, as there is a lot of overlap in characters and location. I also struggled heavily in the middle to see where the story was going; rest assured that this DOES have a satisfying conclusion, though it takes its time getting there. If you are a reader who is adverse to books full of travel, you’ll probably want to give this a pass.

CONCLUSION: Witch King is one of those books that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around. There was so much about it that I enjoyed, and just as much that left me perplexed. In many ways, it is set “after” the main action, with characters being forced to confront their pasts and the moments that led them to where they are now. This book, more than most, is definitely tailored towards certain kinds of readers. If you want everything neatly explained, Witch King is not for you. If you want to jump into a world where only a very specific corner of the universe will be colored in, leaving the rest of the world-building a mystery, this might be for you. Witch King didn’t fully click with me but I can without hesitation say that this is going to work very well for those who are willing to meet it on its level.

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