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The Witness for the Dead

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Member Reviews

It’s been a while since I did a book review. By a while I mean years. But when I stopped reviewing, I left my NetGalley profile up and have over the past few years ignored all the invitations I would occasionally get sent. But then… then Tor sent me an invitation I could not ignore: the chance to read Katherine Addison’s The Witness for the Dead early. I am not built for such temptation.

The Witness for the Dead is a stand-alone novel set in the same world as Addison’s award winning The Goblin Emperor. The book’s blurb calls it a sequel, but that is misleading. The story follows Thara Celehar, the intrepid investigator who solved Emperor Varenechibel IV’s murder in The Goblin Emperor and opens several months after Celehar has taken an appointment in Amalo.

The city of Amalo is in the midst of generational upheaval as the empire expands and industrialization takes hold. What was once a remote outpost is now a thriving city that takes the resources of the surrounding small communities and builds them into the new wonders of the age. Along with that comes gambling houses, operas, and plenty of intrigue as residents jockey for more wealth and power. In the middle of this sits Thara Celehar, given the post of witness for the dead by the Archprelate at the end of The Goblin Emperor. His is a precarious and lonely position, as both a cleric of Ulis as well as a witness vel ama who must work with members of several organizations while having official membership in none of them. He is at once valued for his efforts in the previous novel and resented for his perceived fame and autonomy, while his work is mostly misunderstood and even unvalued by those around him, and he can count on no one to offer him protection. To solidify his position in the city and maintain the work that gives his life meaning, Celehar must navigate political power plays while solving a pair of murders no one else is much interested in while getting entangled in a messy inheritance scandal.

The events of the new story are less straightforward than those in The Goblin Emperor. Like in her previous work, Addison utilizes multiple plot threads that weave together in surprising and unexpected ways. While The Goblin Emperor is a coming-of-age tale, The Witness for the Dead is a mystery in the tradition of Doyle or Christie, with a bit of noir thrown in for good measure, set in a steampunk-esque elven city. However, unlike other tales in these traditions, Addison doesn’t keep the tension consistently ratcheting up throughout the novel. She understands how and when to give readers a break, when to allow the story to breathe and relax enough to explore the world rather than engage in a headlong race to the end like those embraced by mainstream media. These breathers allow Addison to flesh out Celehar in ways that Holms and Poirot never achieved in a single volume. She builds significant thematic content that ties seemingly disparate plot threads together and focuses the novel on Celehar’s character arc rather than on a straightforward narration of events commonly found in many mystery novels. Addison also forgoes tying every plot thread into the main murder mystery, allowing the plot to follow more of a slice-of-life format where not all events are linked in a cause-and-effect chain and not everything is perfectly tied off with a bow at the end. This is a more realistic or naturalistic form of plotting, but one not seen terribly often in either the mystery or fantasy genres. This may leave some readers feeling unfulfilled, while others will appreciate the nuance it provides the overall novel.

Addison is hands down one of the best worldbuilders currently writing. Her characters inhabit highly detailed and consistent worlds, with richly described settings that inform character and action rather than bog the story down with extraneous information. There are universes of nuance in how characters interact with each other, and that extends to how they use language in different ways at different times. For those that read for worldbuilding more than anything else, The Witness for the Dead may be one of their best reads this year.

However, some readers may struggle with this novel and the amount of worldbuilding layered into it. In The Goblin Emperor, our point of view character is Maia and he needs introductions to the world of the Alcethmeret as he moves there from a life-long exile. This creates an easy and logical path for Addison to feed a great deal of information to the reader; we learn along with Maia. Celehar, in contrast, is a more mature and knowledgeable character, and already familiar with the city of Amalo. He doesn’t need explanations about the world, only about the specifics of the investigations and tasks he must complete within the novel. Addison never hides from the reader information they must have to understand Celehar or the plot, but there are a great deal of worldbuilding details that are either fully unexplained, or only explained via subtext, and not a few of them have unique elvish names. This wonderfully overloaded worldbuilding is why I love Addison as an author and have followed her through the twists and turns of her career, but it may overwhelm others.

If The Witness for the Dead has an achilles heel, it’s that many readers will come to it wanting more of The Goblin Emperor, and some of those readers will leave feeling unfulfilled, not because The Witness for the Dead is a bad book or a weaker book – it’s not either of those things – but because it is a fundamentally different book. The plot structure is quieter, more nuanced, and hinges more heavily on theme than the previous novel. The worldbuilding is less accessible, relying on the fact that many readers have already been introduced to this world in the earlier novel. And there is only one character that appears in both: Thara Celehar. In The Witness for the Dead, Maia is the Emperor who lives in the capital. Few in Amalo have seen him, and fewer yet have met him or will ever expect to meet him. He is a distant and unknowable figure in the lives of the characters who inhabit this new novel. Instead, in The Witness for the Dead readers will get chances to see the airship factories for themselves, enjoy a few deep dives into elven opera, and most importantly, see how the average citizen of the Ethuveraz lives. This new entry into the world of elves and goblins shows us layers of the world that The Goblin Emperor hinted at from time to time, but would never be able to explore.

The Witness for the Dead is not the sequel fans of The Goblin Emperor have been dreaming of. This is a very different novel, with different goals. This is a novel that deserves to have its artistic merits measured without constant comparison to its predecessor. It is then that you can see how ambitious The Witness for the Dead is: trusting readers to value theme over boiler-plate plots, to engage with an exploration of doing something for benefit versus doing something because it should be done, to love a character who never sees themselves as special as they actually are. This is a tale that eschews high stakes action for the quiet horror of city life. And it is every bit as brilliant as The Goblin Emperor without being the next The Goblin Emperor. I cannot recommend The Witness for the Dead highly enough, and I know that it has already become another of Addison’s books that I will revisit over and over and over again.
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There's much to love here if you are fond of The Goblin Emperor.

Instead of continuing Maia's story, The Witness for the Dead focuses on a secondary character: Thara Celehar, the eponymous Witness for the Dead who lost his place in court by virtue of a job well done. Celehar is now based far from the Court, and he exercises his skill in speaking to the dead to serve the people of his new city-- by solving will disputes and even the occasional murder. When the body of a woman is found in the canals and Celehar can only detect a hint of her last moments, he becomes enmeshed in a hunt for the killer.

The Witness for the Dead is a very different book than The Goblin Emperor in plot. Celehar is a sort of priest-detective, and other reviewers have described this as a cozy mystery-fantasy— quite different than the political intrigue of the first novel. That said, both novels are about fundamentally good people trying to do good in an imperfect world and abound with details that make that world seem remarkably detailed and real. Some readers might occasionally find the lengthy descriptions draining (for example, the paragraph of directions to the opera house…), but I delighted in nearly all of them, especially mentions of what various characters' ears were doing. Delightful. I only hope we can return to this world again soon.
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The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got the ARC! So of course I had to re-read Goblin Emperor to get myself prepared for the sequel.

BUT. It's not really necessary to have read the first book in the series to enjoy this one. I mean, sure, we get to know the cleric Witness for the Dead in the first book, but only in the capacity for solving the overall mystery.

This sequel does not have the same cohesive worldbuilding and plot as the first, but that's all right, too. What we should expect is a continuation of the humanist feel, an exploration of the world, its peoples, and plenty of side mysteries plagued with politics both big and small.

It's comforting. It's even something of a gentle ramble.

I admit I like the first book better and I'm afraid I expected more out of this one because of it, but it was still quite interesting. The most important part is the feel -- and it felt comforting. It is, after all, a journey.
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So, I had some reservations here. Like probably everyone else who wanted a sequel to The Goblin Emperor, I was kind of hoping that we'd pick up where that book left off and stick with Maia as our narrator, and so was a little disappointed to see the book was going to be about Thara Celehar instead. But I'm really glad that I ended up deciding to read this book anyway, because I was barely thirty pages in before I was engrossed.

Addison does a really excellent job here of both propelling the story along at a steady clip, and interweaving multiple narrative strands (which all end up playing out in a satisfying way). There's a lovely mix of action and the business of day-to-day living here, so that you're never overloaded with either too much action or too much detail. Each scene bleeds neatly into the next, and I'm sure people with better endurance than I have will be able to read this in one satisfying sitting.

There were, however, a few negatives here for me: firstly, Thara Celehar's voice, which as the story progressed became more and more similar to Doyle's in The Angel of the Crows and...yeah, I did not love Doyle. It's a voice that's gratingly judgmental - i.e. there would be points where Thara would pass judgment (negative, usually) on a character we would spend maybe three paragraphs with? I don't expect characters to be perfect or 100% likeable, but...what's the point of constant, needling judgment calls (especially from a character that's supposed to be full of compassion) for a barrage of walk-on barely tertiary characters? It was grating (and honestly, probably could've been solved by just having the book be in 3rd person close).

The other big negative for me was how abruptly the book ended. I don't think it needed that much more, but maybe a more definitive sense of ending? Or even just a last walk through the city? In any case, there was a final touch missing here for me.

All this said, it's still an excellent, extremely readable book, and I think anyone who enjoyed The Goblin Emperor will definitely enjoy this too.
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I was very enthusiastic about this sequel, which I decided to buy and read a long time ago. I was thrilled to receive this read by Netgalley! Thrilled and a little scared: when one loves so much a read as I loved the first book in the series, "The Goblin Emperor", one is also worried about loving less the sequel.
Anyway, undeterred by the risks, I decided to treat me with a reread of "The goblin emperor" first. It was as good as in my memory. Then, immediately, I began reading this one.
For one or two chapters I was a little disoriented, as the narration is different, the author using the first person this time. Then, even if I knew beforehand that the story wouldn't evolve around Maia, I took some time to admit that he wouldn't be the main character of the book and, even more, not a second character either. 
Still Maia's influence remains, as the main theme of the book, through the twists and turns of the story, is the redemption of the narrator, Thara. Depressed and self-loathing, he will learn to realise what troubles him deeply and then to forgive himself for feeling the contradictory feelings he feels, to appreciate life again, to allow himself to live and maybe even, be happy again. The first step of this redemption was clearly his relationship with Maia, and the opportunity the latter gave him to be useful, using his talent and calling again, for a good and even great cause. 
If the background of the story is clearly psychological, the story in itself is engaging and fun, a mysteries story, a mix of Agatha Christie and comedy of manners, with a pinch of ghouls. 
Yes, ghouls! Awesome!
I thought really interesting Thara's status, half forensic detective and half magical priest. In fact, the story was too short to my taste, I would have loved to read much more! But then it was always the case with the author's books I read so far, she writes wonderfully, with incredibly vivid and touching characters and a story which just roll out under the reader eyes as the most lustrous carpet ever... 
I hope for many sequels now!

(I thank Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)
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Being back in the world of the Goblin Emperor books was a delightful breath of fresh air. This was a new perspective, as the main character of this book is about as far from being an emperor as one can get. Thara Celehar serves as a witness for the dead. This book is his journey as he struggles to find answers to several different questions. As with all mysteries it does seem that those questions seem to have intertwining answers. As with the previous book in the series, Witness for the Dead is a detailed look at a wonderful fantasy world. Thara is an amazingly fleshed out character, struggling to make his way in a world that doesn't necessarily want him there.  He takes us all over the city of Amalo to find answers. I love his characterization and honestly all I wanted was for him to be able to get a good night's rest and a filling meal. I would read a thousand more pages of these simple adventures. It does have a bit of a different feeling from the first book in the world, but that's to be expected. I had a wonderful time reading this and I expect returning to the world will fill like a comforting hug for many readers. It's definitely something I'm going to reread.
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Not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand I continued to want to read it. On the other, I kept being disappointed when interesting story threads fizzled to nothing much. 

Perhaps I was too spoiled by its prequel, The Goblin Emperor—a favourite that I read at least three times a year. Maia was a character that I wanted to meet; Celehar is positively bland in comparison. I hoped that his moroseness was a symptom of his tragic love life, something that would be lessened as time passed, but this proved unfounded. Even my—probably not solitary—wish for a vignette with Maia, or at least an update on his progress was disappointed.

In short, The Witness for the Dead was an ambling minor murder mystery, set in a well-realised world, with forgettable characters and a bizarre supernatural element (seriously, ghouls?). However, it was still good have a new story set in the land of elves and goblins. I would definitely read more regardless of who it was centred around, though I would gladly beg for another that featured Maia.
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I feel as though I should probably start this review with the disclaimer that the previous book in this setting, The Goblin Emperor is an absolute favourite of mine, so in some ways The Witness for the Dead was always going to be judged in the light of how much I love that book. Having said that, I should also stress that this is not a sequel, as it only features one supporting character from the previous book who is off having his own adventures here.

This particular story is about Thara Celehar, who played an important role in The Goblin Emperor when it came to unmasking the identities of conspirators against said emperor's father. Thara has the unenviable ability of being able to speak with the recently dead and gain information from them, invaluable in terms of determining guilt or innocence where murder is concerned but also massively unsettling for everyone else.

When we first meet Thara again, he's working in the city of Amalo and grieving the loss of the man he loved. As we find out later on, that relationship was not as clear-cut as it first appears and the guilt around that also haunts him as he goes about his daily business. In this case, he's invited to become involved in a number of situations - the murder of an opera singer, a dispute over inheritance and the death of a woman and her unborn baby whose family believes were murder victims. In a lot of ways, this is a relatively straightforward murder mystery, with Thara as the sleuth putting his abilities to use in a world where it doesn't seem like there's anyone else investigating possible crimes (since the equivalent of the police seem only interested in crimes where there's clear evidence of wrongdoing).

Alongside this, there's also political manoeuvering going on, as various higher ups in the church system that Thara is nominally linked to try and establish just where he is in the pecking order, something that he is sublimely uninterested in, to their utter bemusement. A hint of romance too, as Thara meets someone who seems to be interested in a relationship with him but who is also a potential suspect in the murder case, which I would have liked to have seen developed more.

In some ways, I think this book both benefits and is hindered by my love of the novel which kick-started this universe. It's beautifully written and moves along nicely, with a lot of moving parts, but seems much less of an ensemble piece than The Goblin Emperor and suffers from that a little. The supporting characters in general are slightly less well-drawn than the previous book and, while I enjoyed this book in and of itself, it doesn't hold up as well to comparison. Which feels a bit unfair, to be honest and I still recommend reading it and hope to see more work in this universe too.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Witness for the Dead follows Thara Celehar, a minor character we meet in the Goblin Emperor who helps Maia solve the mystery of what happens to his family. Now he has moved far away and lives in the city of Amalo, far from the court and all its politics. He acts as the witness for the dead, a sort of investigator/priest for the families of people who have died and is drawn into to a web of secrets, lies, treachery and murder.

I really liked the role Thara has, the witness for the dead is such an interesting concept. I always like it when books explore death and what makes a good death - the idea of having someone who will serve as witness to deaths even if the dead have no known family or are one of the forgotten of society was a really great theme to explore. I also really liked how he can talk to recently deceased ghosts and find out the truth of what happened to them. 

Thara as a character is great, he has a melancholy soul/tone to his character but I really liked how the author showed little acts that can bring joy, such as feeding the local cats sardines or havin a cup of tea and scones. Watching him try to find his purpose and calling throughout the book, whilst also being an excellent witness trying to live up to his own legacy was very interesting. I also liked how we explored themes of morality and Thara's stubborn persual of solving mysteries, even if this got him into more trouble. 

Much like the Goblin Emperor this is a quieter novel, with a lot of focus on the main character just living his life and his interactions with others, as well as intricate world building (I really like the world the author has created, although there are a LOT of complex made up words haha). I did really like the mystery at the heart of this book, although in the middle of the book we do seem to diverge from the main storyline before coming back to it at the end. The main mystery is the death of an opera singer, and I loved classic murder mystery this storyline felt. The girl who has been murdered is very ambitious, has a lot of suitors as well as enemies and likes keeping other peoples secrets in order to blackmail them - which to me just felt so nostalgic for some reason (maybe it gave me alison from pretty little liars vibes lol). 

I think I would have liked a bit more exploration of the "romance"/relationship between Thara and Pel-Theraior, I feel like it was teased but never really explicit and I would have liked a bit more at the end and maybe a heartfelt conversation. The ended in general I felt was a little aburpt, I'm someone who likes a bit of padding on my endings rather then them finishing straight after the climax, but that is definitely a personal preference thing. 

In conclusion this was a really enjoyable read and I really hope Katherine Addison writes more books set in this world. I would definitely read a whole series of Thara solving mysteries.
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The long-awaited sequel to "The Goblin Emperor" did not disappoint. It's another turn in the world where - despite danger and death, murder and malfeasance, petty politics & uncaring bureaucracy - people are kinder than you expect, and the world is hopeful, full of unexpected friendships and connections. 

The reader coming directly from "The Goblin Emperor" should be aware that this novel is not about Edrehasivar VII, but instead follows Thara Celehar, the prelate of Ulis who helped to uncover the criminals in the previous novel. Here, he has been sent to Amalo by the Archprelate, to serve specifically as a Witness for the Dead. In this capacity, he investigates deaths, discovers the names of heirs, and is eventually drawn into a murder investigation of a woman with many enemies, and more secrets. 

For those readers who have not discovered the joy of "The Goblin Emperor", you may read he sequel without having read the first, but reading them in order will not only introduce you to a a brilliant comfort novel, but will deepen the emotional impact of the second book.

I hope that the author will continue to tell stories in this rich world.
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A delightful book from Katherine Addison. Set in the same world as The Goblin Emperor but not a traditional sequel, this book shows another character coming to terms with a life that treats them rather harshly. I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed the characters. As a long-term fan of Addison (including her writing as Sarah Monette), I now how much she loves mysteries, and it's fun to read one she's written. 

I think anyone who enjoyed Goblin Emperor would enjoy The Witness for the Dead.

I received a free eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Fans of The Goblin Emperor will fall quickly back into that world as they immerse themselves into the daily patterns of Thara Celehar’s new life, far from the imperial court.

Somehow this book felt smaller, but I believe it is simply because Celehar’s existence is smaller than Maia’s. This one is also told in first person rather than third, and it took a moment to figure out why it felt different.

But The Witness for the Dead is just as elaborate—and just as kind—as its predecessor, and I was very glad visit again.
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I absolutely loved THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, so when I got the chance to read THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD, I jumped on it. Addison doesn't disapoint with her empathetic characters and lush worldbuilding. The book follows Thara Celahar, the Witness for the Dead that made an appearance in THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, as he attempts to follow his duties and deal with his unwitting fame in the city of Amalo, far from the Emperor's court. Thara is wonderfully empathetic, and quickly reached cinnamon bun status in my heart: must protect at all costs. He's conscientous and clever and so achingly kind, and unaware of any of these heroic traits in himself. Although we follow him investigating a series of murders, deaths, and intrigue, the book never loses its comfort read feel.

The resolution of the book is a little rushed at the end for my tastes and I dearly wished for more resolution with one possible romantic subplot (readers looking for a clear romance in this will be tantalized but not satisfied; Thara has a lot of emotional baggage to sort through), but Addison does an admirable job keeping a wide cast of characters coherent and tying all the plots together. THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD, like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, is a complex high fantasy world wrapped in a soft over-sized sweater. It never loses its heart, and I'm so grateful for that.
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It’s no secret that The Goblin Emperor is my favourite novel, so when I heard the news that Katherine Addison was working on a new book set in this world I was a little nervous but, ultimately, so excited—even more so when it was revealed it wasn’t going to be a direct sequel, because The Goblin Emperor is perfect as it is. Instead we follow Thara Celehar, our titular Witness for the Dead who worked for Maia in the previous book to help him discover who murdered his father and brothers, this time as he embarks on his preferred work, helping those who lack the funds and prestige of those at court.

The Witness for the Dead is an odd novel in some ways, and parts of it reminded me of Addison’s other novel, The Angel of the Crows, because this novel feels more like several novellas put together rather than one whole novel. Having said that, it definitely feels more like a novel than The Angel of the Crows did (thankfully, because I didn’t actually enjoy The Angel of the Crows very much!) and the various crimes and events Celehar finds himself getting involved in weave in and out of one another, rather than simply happening one after the other. What I’m trying to get at is that The Witness for the Dead is a very quiet and in some ways cosy novel, not unlike The Goblin Emperor, so if you’re craving more fantasy where the fate of the world isn’t at stake and the focus is on one character’s relationship with the world around him, and the people in it, then this is a book for you.

You could read this novel without first reading The Goblin Emperor, but you’ll get much more out of The Witness for the Dead if you read The Goblin Emperor because you’ll learn Celehar’s backstory; why he lives the way he lives and distances himself from others the way he does.

As a Witness for the Dead, Celehar can essentially read cadavers and human remains to find out what the dead experienced in their last moments and, if foul play was involved, find out who killed them. A kinsman of the previous emperor’s empress, Celehar lost what little favour he had when he agreed to work for Maia, who in return released Celehar from the court to return to the kind of work he prefers. Now in the city of Amalo, far from the emperor and his court, the novel opens with Celehar being asked to attend upon the body of an elven woman that has been pulled from the river. Any thoughts of her death being an accident or suicide are put aside when Celehar discovers a wound on her head.

What follows is a gentle story of Celehar trying to find justice for a woman he comes to discover wasn’t a particularly nice lady, and some of the other jobs he is given or accidentally falls into along the way, but the novel’s main focus is on Celehar himself. He’s a somewhat tragic figure, someone who hasn’t been shown as much kindness as he deserves, and in The Witness for the Dead we slowly start to see him open up to other people and make friends—and a hint that, maybe one day, he might allow himself a second chance at romance, too.

This is a difficult book to review because it’s not really a plot-heavy novel and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience by accidentally giving something away, but just know that I loved reading it. I loved being back in this world, and seeing a different part of it—not only geographically, but also in terms of the class of people we meet. The entirety of The Goblin Emperor takes place at court, surrounded by noblemen and noblewomen, whereas Celehar associates with other members of his religious order, factory workers and performers at an opera house, just to name a few. Addison’s writing is beautiful, her characters all have such stage presence, regardless of how long we meet them for, and while the mysteries themselves aren’t exactly shocking or full of twists and turns, it’s Celehar’s determination to find the truth, above all else, that makes this book impossible to put down.
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As Witness for the Dead, Thara Celehar is tasked not just with bringing solace to the dead and the dying, but also seeing to their unfinished business - including finding out who killed them. Even with the ability to sense the last thought of the dead, though, solving a murder is never simple, especially with scheming coworkers and a skeptical public. Fans of Katherine Addison will appreciate the tranquility and friendliness she brings even to the twists and turns of a murder mystery.
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I thoroughly enjoyed The Witness for the Dead. The setting is unique and the story compelling. The protagonist is driven to do his best and he uses his mind as much as his ability to listen to the recently deceased. The multiple plot lines are intricately interwoven, hard to guess but satisfyingly concluded. Highly recommended.
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<b>4.25 stars. This is basically a cozy mystery... but fantasy, and I am delightfully charmed.</b> I didn't expect to enjoy this slow, quiet story so much!

<b>I like it much more than the first book, <i>The Goblin Emperor</i>. These two are wildly different in terms of plot. The murder mystery aspect of this drew me in, but they share the same universe and the same type of protagonist: a quiet, kind man who maintains his benevolence and dignity even in the face of tragedy. Both are technically standalones.</b> You don't need to read the first novel to understand this, although it will allow you a better grasp of the setting.

The story is quite straightforward. Thara is a Witness for the Dead, a public cleric-slash-servant who presides over funerary rites and matters of the deceased. Oh, and he also solves murders, because he can touch a corpse and glean their final memories. But don't expect a fast-paced, action-packed thriller; it's a medium-paced story that's just about Thara's relationships with the citizens, and the lives of the deceased victims, as it is about solving the crimes.

Wholesome. This book is wholesome. If you want the type of mystery that values the victim rather than the killer, then this is it.

Thara himself is also immensely likeable. He's a quiet, unconventional protagonist; a man who sticks by his duty and doesn't care for glory. Soft-spoken, an excellent listener, often pushed around but stands up for the denizens under his protection. <b>He's also gay, so I love the casual rep, but there is no central romance here.</b> I actually want to know more about his backstory, which is only hinted on, but maybe that was in <i>Emperor</i>. Idk.

The names are pretty confusing but the worldbuilding is otherwise delightful. Grand in scope, thoughtful, but not overwhelming. <b>Addison's universe is impeccably <i>human</i></b>, warm and lived in, believable.

I only wish it had sped up at times, and that's why I won't give it a full 5 stars. <b>But it's highly recommended if you want a subtle, cozy, character-driven story.</b>

<i>Thank you to Desirae of Tor Books and NetGalley for inviting me to view this ARC in exchange for an honest review.</i>
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Sequel to The Goblin Emperor, but this time following the cleric who speaks to the dead as he navigates a hostile ecclesiastical environment, investigates several different deaths, and (much against his inclination) makes a few friends. Like the first book, the goodheartedness of the narrator, despite his learned mistrust, makes this a relatively gentle story even when murder and other nastiness is involved.
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<p>Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author has been a personal friend for, wow, let's not count how many years.</p>
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<p>This is in the same world as <em>The Goblin Emperor</em>, and it takes place soon after it, but it's not a sequel per se. We already know Thara Celehar, a bit: he's the Witness for the Dead who found the truth about the previous emperor. But this book takes Celehar somewhere quieter, somewhere completely new. Somewhere no less surrounded by death and doom, but y'know, that's the life of a Witness for the Dead.</p>
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<p>This is a murder mystery with strong fantastical elements. The deaths and lives Celehar is trying to witness tangle themselves around each other, each piece leading to another. There are cemetery ghouls rather than court etiquette, and the main role of airships is...not healthy for those near them...but the essential goodness of the Celehar himself, and of some though not all of the people he encounters keep this book very much buoyed up.</p>
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<p>There's so much scope for characterization and worldbuilding here, and Addison uses both to their utmost. The world of the opera and how this world's ideas of race change who gets to do what; domestic violence and family grief; a very shy person realizing, tentatively, that he can have friends, that though he faces opposition he also has support. I love all these elements so much.</p>
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<p>One of the great virtues of mystery novels can be good people making sense of the world, and that's here, that's very much here--along with the potential for so much more to follow. Highly recommended. Here if you want to squee about it.</p>
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The Goblin Emperor was a thing to cherish; a fantasy of manners is already a rare enough beast, but it was also a stand-alone novel in a genre where trilogies and longer are the norm. As such, while the thought of revisiting that world is obviously tempting, the news that a sequel was coming had to be received with a note of caution. Mercifully, this is no direct continuation, no threat to the reign of the first book's protagonist Maia, nor tacked-on quest for him to complete. Rather, the focus shifts to a supporting character, Thara Celehar, the eponymous Witness for the Dead – a hybrid priest-detective who, through an ability to attain limited communion with the recently deceased, can assist in the investigation of their demise. And for much of the time, this plays out like the classic detective novel its title might suggest. An opera singer's body has been found in the river, but she didn't drown; plenty of colleagues, patrons and others had reason to dislike her, but did any of them hate her enough to kill her? Celehar's investigation faces interference, including from his own superiors (or possible superiors – his own uncertain place in the hierarchy is part of the problem, as is the nature of his past disgrace, and even the faction-political implications of his subsequent return to imperial favour). But of course, though one can sometimes forget it, he isn't just a detective solving murders and the occasional dispute over a will – he might equally be called to officiate at a funeral, and though I'm no expert on Golden Age crime fiction, I'm going to go out on a limb and say there are no Agatha Christies where the investigation has to go on hold for a while so the lead can go and lay an undead uprising in a remote mining town. A detour which could easily have felt like a distraction, but instead just makes the book's world feel that little bit more solid, as do the profusion of sects and teas and honorifics the characters must negotiate (or, at times, pointedly dismiss). In the only Addison novel I've read outside this setting, Angel Of The Crows, the sheer range of supernatural elements bolted on to a Sherlock pastiche could sometimes feel like a novice gamesmaster wanting to throw in every cool idea they'd found in all their sourcebooks. Here, I never for a second doubted any detail of what I was being told; the world in the book is like this because that's the way it is, obviously. To the extent that I want to describe details of ecclestiasical etiquette in a church that doesn't exist, or the nuanced descriptions of how the cast of elves and goblins hold their ears at difficult moments, as 'finely observed'. In that sense, for all the change of lead and location, this is a book which shares much with its predecessor. Without the parallels ever feeling forced, or the situations being close enough that it becomes a retread, this is again a moving story in which a lonely, decent protagonist, somewhat stranded in a role with very particular expectations, feels his way in fits and starts to a life in which he can feel at home.

(Netgalley ARC)
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