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Witch King


Witch King

Known widely for her Hugo Award-winning series, The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells dives headfirst back into the fantasy genre after a decade apart with her new release, WITCH KING. In this engaging mystery, thorough worldbuilding, enticing and endearing characters, and a carefully constructed tension kept me turning each page in a hunt for answers much like our protagonist.

After being murdered, most likely a drowning victim, Kai-Enna wakes up imprisoned in an intricate trap and in a new body. The book begins with his return to consciousness, but he is unaware of how much time has passed. Those who hold him captive are mortal and called expositors. They mean to control him by binding his soul to a weaker body that they could subject to their will. But such an action was doomed to end poorly for them considering that one of Kai’s many abilities can peel the souls from his enemy’s bodies, “eating their life.”

"Wells crafts an adventurous tale with action rich in twists and turns.... WITCH KING is the perfect read for fantasy fans looking to escape into a new world, with magic, adventure and mystery at all corners."

As power has shifted among ruling factions and old friends are missing, Kai finds himself on a journey for answers. To do so, he needs allies. A young mortal girl named Sanja was brought as a sacrifice for a ritual by the expositors. Ziede, his close friend with whom he shares a mental connection through a heart pearl, has awoken under similar circumstances and appears not to have aged a day.

As this group escapes initially and establishes how what they’ve known has changed, they realize that Ziede’s wife, Tahren, has gone missing. A colorful cast of characters joins the trio --- from members of the prince’s court, Ramad and Ashem, to Tenes, an enslaved witch turned familiar who is seeking revenge on her captors. They push forth to find many more companions, unravel various betrayals, and locate the answers that Kai thinks he wants.

Wells throws us straight into the meat of this world. She doesn’t simplify the construct of beings, their powers, or the politics of these different nations and species. The dense worldbuilding can create a challenging and slower start. But upon reading further, the experience turns ultimately rewarding as a rhythm is established with excellent pacing, and readers are provided the tools to dig into the intricacies of this world.

The group has not a clue to go on for how they’ve been betrayed, and what they find is far from ideal. Deals are struck by trusted factions to get rid of Kai and Ziede. Someone who was meant to be family turns on Kai. And deeper research by one companion reveals the possibility of the return of the Hierarchs, an infamous faction that used to control most of the world and enslaved demons and witches.

The book is told in dual timelines with perspectives into the past. We discover how Kai found his way to who he is today through lifetimes of different bodies, watch the meeting of lifelong friends who would become chosen family, see the start of a salacious rumor-producing court life, and begin to unravel the layers of betrayal. The mistreatment and trapped nature of each character is thematic and palpable, eventually producing a contrast to a revealed old promise that they all once aimed “to find something to unburn.” This line hit immensely and beautifully, and it has been stuck in my head since I finished devouring this book.

What Wells excels at most is providing an immediate and electric connection between the characters. It is clear that they’ve known each other for years. Their rapport is believable, and I was quickly invested, smiling at banter and developing a quick fondness for each of them. The charming nature of the whole cast cannot be overstated.

That said, I would’ve enjoyed learning more about the characters around Kai, whether it be background, more scenes, complete arcs, or even point-of-view chapters. With how thinly developed some of the dynamics are with each other, there is a lack of payoff in what could’ve been incredibly moving scenes.

Still, Wells crafts an adventurous tale with action rich in twists and turns. Character moments are given time to build, creating investment and ensuring that readers will drown with them at their lowest points. WITCH KING is the perfect read for fantasy fans looking to escape into a new world, with magic, adventure and mystery at all corners.

Reviewed by Eleni Karavoussianis on June 17, 2023

Witch King
by Martha Wells

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2023
  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Tordotcom
  • ISBN-10: 1250826799
  • ISBN-13: 9781250826794