Cover Image: The Witness for the Dead

The Witness for the Dead

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Member Reviews

6.5/10 stars

My full review can be found on my blog (link below).

[...]

I’ve read The Goblin Emperor ages ago and while I enjoyed it, I also had a few choice words to say about the things that I felt didn’t work so well. Ah, those were the days when my tongue was very sharp indeed and my tolerance much lower than it is today 😉

Having read Addison’s The Angel of the Crows more recently (and finding that book so bad that I only wrote a short GR review for it) I approached The Witness for the Dead with certain trepidation. I needn’t have worried, however. If jumping straight into the highly regulated and intricate world of elves’ and goblins’ steam-powered fin de siecle is what you were waiting for, The Witness for the Dead delivers it in spades.

Let’s start with the matter of sequels. The Witness for the Dead can be called a “sort of” sequel to The Goblin Emperor, in that it follows a minor character from the first book and that it takes place after the events of The Goblin Emperor (which have some, albeit slight, pertinence to the events of The Witness for the Dead). It could be read as a standalone, though I suspect the pleasure of discovering the small references to the book #1 is an important aspect of the book #2’s draw. All in all, I’d recommend reading The Goblin Emperor first, bearing in mind that the links between the two books are rather weak. Maia comes up only in dialogue, twice or thrice, and that’s it; other characters from the first book are either mentioned only in passing or not at all. Other, except for Thara Celehar, the eponymous Witness for the Dead and the Prelate of Ulis, who is the main protagonist of the new novel.

Celehar is a skillfully created, complex character: wounded and insecure, plagued by low self-esteem and a heavy burden of responsibility, honest and full of integrity and compassion, vulnerable yet persevering. He can also be stubborn to a fault, unable to understand social cues, unbending and brusque in his social interactions, and quite obsessive in his adherence to social rules and norms, be they related to the forms of speech, maps, or even proper clothing. In all, he constitutes a rare, accurate and valuable portrayal of an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) personality, for which Addison deserves all the praise she can get: she made Celehar relatable and comprehensible, deserving of our empathy and friendship and support, and she did it without glossing over any of Celehar’s interpersonal, relational difficulties or problems of social maladjustment, noticeable especially within such highly regulated society as the one from The Goblin Emperor’s world.

Celehar is the brightest star of the book, no doubt. As a character study, and a worldbuilding study, The Witness for the Dead works really well. Here, the glittering world of the court is eschewed for the provincial and, in consequence, more down-to-earth world of Amalo – with all its petty conflicts and dreams, dirty factories, communal cemeteries, boarding houses, city anonymity, and local but no less vicious bids for power. The problems might be low-key, not related to the well-being of emperors and countries, but they are no less important for being small: we have a serial killer on the loose; last will fraud and scandals; slander; ghouls roaming freely and eating people in rather ghastly ways; a bloody factory accident; and a murder mystery involving opera singers. The tone of this book is more somber than The Goblin Emperor, which is also an improvement, at least for me – the overflowing, cloying sweetness of the first novel is drastically limited here, both by the idiosyncrasies of the different narrator and by the vastly different topics.

It’s evident that The Angel of the Crows, a Sherlock Holmes fantasy fanfic Addison published last year, influenced the plot of The Witness for the Dead: it has a similar, fragmented structure, built around mystery cases which may or may not be related, lending the book an episodic, rambling feel. The plot is far from tight; it reads more like a newspaper serial than a novel, and this unfortunately results in lowering the stakes of the whole arc quite a lot. The ending seems rushed and unfinished, and while I expect the intent was to create a feeling of opening possibilities, what I actually experienced was a very sudden THE END where a whole lot of stuff still remained unresolved.

That said, I enjoyed this book quite a lot, mostly due to Thara Celehar’s unique personality. His adventures are not all equally credible, and Addison still can’t write decent action scenes in a non-yawn-inducing way, but I found Celehar realistic, believable, and very likeable in all his vulnerability, his inability to fit in, his need for a meaningful human (well, not really, but writing elven/goblin/sentient being would take too much space, as you can see ;)) contact, his integrity, and his unwavering devotion to his duties.

All in all, The Witness for the Dead is an enjoyable return to the world of The Goblin Emperor. Less sweet and sentimental than its predecessor, it firmly retains the feel-good vibes of the previous book, making them more realistic when viewed through the lens of the struggles of the wonderfully imperfect protagonist, Thara Celehar.

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.
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THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD was exactly what I needed. It’s part month-in-the-life as Celehar goes about his duties, part murder mystery as he seeks justice for two women whose cases take longer to unravel. Addison imbues the whole thing with atmosphere to spare and wraps it in her usual delicious worldbuilding, with echoes of her earlier books throughout. I was more than happy to wallow in it, and I miss the hell out of it now it’s over. 4.5 stars

NB: even though this is set in the same world as THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, you don’t need to read the earlier book to understand this one. It’s a perfect standalone (but why you’d deny yourself TGE, I can’t say).
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Katherine Addison returns to the world of her wonderful The Goblin Emperor in a stand-alone sequel, The Witness for the Dead. The protagonist is Thara Celehar who featured in the first book as the investigator solving the previous emperor’s assassination. It made him unpopular in the court, and the Emperor relocated him to a remote industrial city of Amalo to serve as the witness for the dead there.

Celehar is a priest who can communicate with the recently departed, to stand witness for them in this life. As naturally reticent, he prefers the company of the dead too. But being a witness often means investigating the lives of the dead, to find justice for them after death. It makes him a de facto criminal investigator, the only one in Amalo.

Celehar has a lot on his plate. A young woman’s family wants to find out how she died, which leads him on the trail of a serial killer. Another family wants to learn the patriarch’s true last will, which plunges him back into the political machinations he left the court to escape. And an opera singer has been murdered, and there is no dearth of potential suspects. Add to that a ghoul, an industrial accident, and a personable opera director who serves to remind him that one cannot be true to who one loves in the empire of elves and goblins, and it’s not a wonder he doesn’t sleep well at nights.

This was an utterly wonderful book. The world is rich to a fault, yet the story is small in scope; a cosy mystery in its truest form. Celehar, like Maia in the first book, is a deeply humane character who strives to do his duty, but who isn’t without small faults that make him all the more likeable when he overcomes them. The focus is on solving the mysteries, and although Celehar finds a way to forgive himself for the events of the past (told already in the first book), the book ends with him pretty much in the same place than in the beginning. Only a few experiences richer and with a new friend.

With a world this wonderful and characters as great as Celehar and Maia, I hope the author will write many more books set there.
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Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .

The first book of this series the goblin emperor is one of me favourite comfort reads.  This be a standalone book set in the same world so ye don't have to read them in order but I do recommend it.

This novel does not have the same feel of scope or political intrigue as its predecessor.  What is does still have is a character ye love to root for and find comfort in.  Celehar is not a ruler but a dutiful man whose position, a witness for the dead, leaves him on the fringes of society.  That fact that he can speak to the dead, unlike the rest of his calling, leaves him even more isolated.

I loved Celehar.  Ye follow him in his daily tasks and watch him find answers about the dead.  How he solves mysteries is not glamourous or even thrilling.  But it his care for those families he helps and his reverence for the dead that makes him so loveable.

The plot is leisurely, the worldbuilding continues to be excellent, and I loved every minute.  I certainly would read more books set in this world, however i will continue to reread these books and enjoy them.  Arrr!

So lastly . . .

Thank you Macmillian/Tor-Forge!
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When I found out a follow-up to The Goblin Emperor was in the works, I was thrilled, because I absolutely loved that novel. While this is a slighter tale, it showcases the same strengths as the first book—absolutely terrific worldbuilding and a main character a reader can root for.

Unlike The Goblin Emperor, which was the story of a young ruler growing into his power among political intrigue, The Witness for the Dead is more of a detective novel. Thara Celehar used his ability to speak to the recently deceased to help the emperor Maia discover who murdered his father and brothers. Now he has been given a posting far from court where he assists petitioners who need answers from the dead. Mostly it’s not exciting, but sometimes his duty includes finding out how and why someone died. And sometimes, that means tracking down a murderer.

As in the previous book, the pacing is leisurely. There’s only one true moment of action when Celehar confronts a ghoul that he’s supposed to lay to rest. Otherwise, Celehar mostly spends his time traversing the city looking for evidence and gently questioning people in pursuit of the answers to two mysteries—the murder of a young opera singer and the death of a woman and her unborn child—while (unsuccessfully) attempting to avoid the demands of the church hierarchy of which he is an uncomfortably odd part.

The slow pace at which the plot unfolded didn’t bother me. It gave me time to appreciate the wonderful worldbuilding, which is detailed to the point of making this fantasy realm of magic and airships feel completely real. I also came to like Celehar just as much as I liked Maia. They are both good men with difficult pasts attempting to do what they believe is right without a lot of support from other people.

Actually, Celehar’s past is part of the reason he is so isolated. It’s a tragedy worthy of the opera that plays a central role in the plot: Celehar was forced to condemn his lover to death as a part of his duties as a witness. The fact that his lover was a man is regarded as shameful, and the potential for further scandal haunts him. So, Celehar continues to mourn his lover and avoids potential entanglements. Which made me sad because I’m a romantic at heart. Celehar deserves to find love again, darn it!

I’m not sure I dare hope for another book featuring Celehar, but I’d love to spend more time with him. As for this book, I’d highly recommend it to anyone who loves excellently written fantasy, especially fans of The Goblin Emperor.

A copy of this book was provided through NetGalley for review; all opinions expressed are my own.
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Witness for the Dead

The long awaited continuation of The Goblin Emperor takes place far away from Maia's court and almost all of the characters of the first book, taking place mostly in the distant small city of Amalo where Thara Celahar - the Witness for the Dead who uncovered the truth of the previous Emperor's death in the first book - has ended up working. Thara's situation, already challenging during the events of The Goblin Emperor, got even worse over the course of the book, but he has maintained his attitude towards upholding his profession. It's his Witnessing that leads him to take on a series of tasks in Amalo and its surrounding areas - most prominently, the death of an opera singer in mysterious circumstances - and through that, take us on an adventure as an audience through more of this intricate, fascinating world.

The Witness for the Dead is a very different book to its predecessor, although much of the DNA carries over. While Amalo is a significantly more provincial setting, the fundamental worldbuilding quirks - this is a world full of elves and goblins (who are apparently different races of the same species rather than completely different species) who express emotions through their ear position, have "good hair" if it's white and accepts intricate braids, and in the parts where the series has been set, look down on goblins as less than elves in a much closer corollary to human racism than most fantasy worlds create. Thara, too, is a similarity, as a protagonist fundamentally interested in doing the right thing, although his professional calling and the way it is portrayed, particularly when it comes to making difficult decisions, feels different to Maia. There are small details in the development Amalo, too, which make it feel convincingly like a provincial capital whose political elites are far enough from the centre for it to affect the way their political ambitions play out, without being fully disconnected from the emperor's reach.

With intricate worldbuilding and cinnamon roll protagonist in place, The Witness for the Dead has an easy recipe for success, and it uses those elements to solid effect. My favourite parts of the book by far are those involving the mystery at the opera company, as Thara uncovers the mystery behind the death of Arvenean Shelsin, a mid-soprano whose behaviour quickly turns up plenty of reasons for someone to dislike her. Thara's scenes at the opera, and particularly his dynamic with Pel-Thenhior, its composer, feel tight and engaging. So too do the other cases Thara takes on - a disputed inheritance, a ghoul sighting in a neighbouring town, a marital poisoning that threatens to be the latest in a series - although none bring the vibrancy of supporting characters that the opera does. Where Witness for the Dead struggles is in interweaving all of these strands together into something that maintains tension and engagement throughout. The mid section, in particular, I found it harder to stay engaged (because there's no opera bits, are you seeing a theme here). In a book that didn't have such a high bar to live up to, this might not have been worthy of note, but it is worth setting expectations that Witness for the Dead doesn't quite hit the same magic as its predecessor, nor did it leave me with quite the same feeling of warm, fuzzy, heartwarming hope as I got from the end of The Goblin Emperor. For what it does do, though, this is a really enjoyable book, in a world that I'd read more from in a heartbeat.
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This is a standalone sequel, and you can read it without reading The Goblin Emperor. But you would be doing yourself a disservice because even if you don’t need the first one to understand this second one, the first book is amazing and you just have to read it. And yes, I am being bossy, sue me!

Like the first book, this one is a very quiet book, with a character that is a good person at heart, but that is, guess what? quiet. Because I really think that quiet is the keyword here. It can describe all, from the story to the characters. From the pace of the story to the atmosphere. But quiet is not boring. Far from it.
We get to follow Celehar in his new job, and it is a pleasure to see someone so devoted to his own work. He has a job to do, and he is just determined to do it and to do it properly. He does not care for praises or thanks. He cares to just do right.
And we get to see him do his job. And what a pleasure it was!
We get to see him finally doing what he is called to do, because being a Witness for the Dead is a calling, and he is deeply conscious of it, and also deeply diligent and serious about it. He is finally free and far from the court, and we get to see him trying to regain his footing. His past is dark and full of sufferance, but there is hope in the future, and even if the future is something unknown and far away, in a sense, he is slowly coming back to life, and he is trying to find his place in the world. It is not always easy, and leaving the past behind is hard. Especially when some things are like a shadow that people won’t hesitate to bring to life in the hope of gaining something. People can suck, that’s for sure, but Celehar doesn’t really care. Sure, he is not happy about it and he suffers for it, but he is a man on a mission and he won’t be stopped. And his power of will is really something to witness. Also, there is some politic because, even if he tries his best to stay well away from it, they are trying to play the power game using him as a tool. So we have also this part, but for the most part of the book, we are following Celehar witnessing for the deads.

It is a cohesive book, but it has some episodic vibes to it. He follows mainly three cases if we can call them so, and he had some adventures in between (ghouls and ghosts, eek!), but all are somehow connected, so it is not really an episodic plot, but the vibes are there. And I have to say that I have enjoyed the story quite a lot. I was curious when I met him for the first time about his work, because it sounds like something peculiar, and this book didn’t disappoint me! I learned all I wanted to learn and more! And we get another opportunity to visit this world, which is just so full of life and wonders.
Also, the hot weather that I am experiencing at the moment helped me resist a bit, but this book would make you crave hot tea, so be warned!

I know that this is quite short, as a review, but that’s what I have to say about this book. I enjoyed it a lot. To be honest, The Goblin Emperor is something else, but this one was good and it has is merits. And I have to recommend it to you all, if you are in for something different and… guess what?? Quiet!
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The Witness for the Dead is a standalone sequel that takes place in the same world as The Goblin Emperor. The story follows Thara Celehar, who has the ability to speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, and experience the last thing they felt. Naturally, Celehar is called on to investigate disputes turned deadly. 

The Goblin Emperor is one of my favorite books, and I loved that The Witness for the Dead had echoes of what drew me into the first: the flowery language, political intrigue, and mystery. (That said, even though it's a standalone, I don't know that a reader would fully appreciate this world with having read the first book.) I'm not the biggest fan of murder mystery genre, but Celehar is such a thoughtfully developed, dynamic, and surprising character that I couldn't help but enjoy the journey. 
 
The Goblin Emperor still takes the cake in my book -- but this was certainly a delightful sequel.
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I thought I had read the first volume, but I quickly realized that I had not. I hesitated before jumping into the story because I was afraid of being lost, especially in a fantasy world, but since the author specifies that it’s a standalone, I thought it was worth a try. Finally, if I think it can be interesting to read the first volume to have the basics of the universe and the characters, I had a good time.

We discover Thara Celehar, a witness of the dead, who has the gift of being able to see the last moments of a person’s life. This is how he witnesses the murder of a young woman, one that everyone thought had drowned. Determined to discover the truth, he tries to understand what happened and follows the path of the young woman. This is how he will learn that the young woman was hiding many secrets.

This was a pretty cool novel with the same thread as a suspense novel and I enjoyed following the main character’s investigation. I need to discover the first volume to see what I missed.
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I'd not read the first book nor am I a particular fan of fantasy but this is an intriguing and entertaining novel, especially once I turned to reading it as as murder mystery,  Celehar is able to talk to the dead, which causes him the sort of problem you might expect.  Here he's pulled into a morass of politics and jealousy.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  I'm certain Addison's fans will be very happy with this and those, like me, who aren't up on the genre will find it accessible and fun,.
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The Witness for the Dead
by Katherine Addison



This is the book that I didn’t know I was waiting for. 

Like many people, I first encountered Katherine Addison when I found the Goblin Emperor on a bunch of awards ballots. I was immediately enchanted. Within six months of reading it, I doubled back and listened to the audiobook. Goblin Emperor is charming and delightful and wonderful and even deeper than I realized the first time though. I also adored her book last year, the Angel of the Crows. It was delightful and I hope everyone goes out and reads it. 

So I was thrilled beyond all imagining when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC for her new book, The Witness For the Dead. 

Like her last novel, the overarching plot isn’t the heart of this novel, but instead it is the characters and relationships. The protagonist, the titular Witness for the Dead, had a minor role to play in the Goblin Emperor, but here we get to see him living his life in a smaller municipality, getting involved in various cases and investigations. The character’s headspace is so perfectly realized that I could not put this book down. It was the most enjoyable reading experience I have had in months. 

I cannot enthuse enough about this book. Go buy it right now!
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The highly awaited sequel to the wonderful Goblin Emperor is finally here...and I am whelmed. 

Revolving around Thara Celehar, the titular Witness for the Dead, the story once more jumps in into a wonderfully fleshed out world, full of culture and tradition, and highly in need of a glossary (I know we got one for Emperor, but it seems to be missing here). Like Addison's previous release, The Angel of Crows, this story is a murder mystery although goes on many many tangents and plot points before arriving at it's finale. And for a short book...there's just too much crammed in. I wish, like with Angel, half the side stories were just cut and the bigger points fleshed out. I enjoyed the detours to an extent, the little tidbits about the culture that Thara belongs to, and in that sense things were well done. 

Thara Celehar as a character is a very...human one; he's both loveable and yet polarising. He's actions always are those of someone who wishes to do his best by his 'calling' and best to the dead he represents. Which is admirable, however at time he (And so many others) seem to lack a certain tack when talking about the dead (and different cultures have different ways of acknowledging these things it must be fair to say). Despite his desire to do the best, he also never seems to stand up for himself, preferring to shield away from notice and take the path of least resistance. Which is a perfectly understandable action considering his past and his 'higher ups', however it does make for frustrating reading. 

Overall, I just wish there was more to the book. More character interaction, more depth to their relationships. More time spent developing the cases that Thara investigates. It's not a bad book, but it's so easy to see how it could have been so much more. I'd recommend it for those who enjoyed The Goblin Emperor, as it gives you more of the world, more of the wholesomeness that is people trying to do their best, but for those who are unfamiliar, they might be left lost and confused.
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I received a an early copy of this book via NetGalley.

<i>The Witness for the Dead</i> is a stand-alone sequel to <i>The Goblin Emperor.</i> I read that book years ago but enjoyed it immensely for its cozy vibe and unique worldbuilding, but the naming conventions in the world left me endlessly addled about who was who. Keeping track of names is never my strong point, and add in Russian-style name variations and formalities, and I am a goner. 

<i>Witness</i> is a profoundly different book. It largely avoids court politics, and is instead a fantasy book that is a fairly straightforward murder-mystery novel. Only in this situation, Celehar is a detective who can speak with the recently-dead to find out what they wanted to name as heir, or if the committed some crime as they died, or if they were in fact murdered. The concept is fantastically original.

The book eloquently weaves together several of Celehar's ongoing cases. Just as with <i>Goblin Emperor</i>, there is a cozy vibe, a cast that consists of (mostly) helpful goblins and elves, and the same frustrating downside: it was impossible for me to track who was who. I was helped in that Addison is a brilliant writer, and most always provided contextual clues so that within a page or so I would realize, 'oh yeah, that guy again.' Even so, with the way the plots were twined, characters constantly came and went, and I often felt adrift. If not for that problem, this would have been a five-star read for me.
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I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The Witness for the Dead is a companion/spin-off to Katherine Addison’s earlier work, The Goblin Emperor. It can be read as a stand-alone, as the connections between the two are minimal, apart from the protagonist in this one appearing in TGE, and being set within the same world. 

I have mixed feelings about this, and I feel they all have to do with having first read TGE so recently, due to wanting to be sure I didn’t miss anything, even knowing it was billed as a “stand-alone sequel.” It’s cool to see a bit more of the world, as we’re in a new location. And while I wasn’t super won over by Celahar as the protagonist, I did like learning more about his powers of communicating with the dead. 

It did lack some of the “wow” factor of TGE, so I definitely didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped upon finishing TGE and looking ahead. But I subsequently appreciated that the book didn’t feel it had to “measure up” to its predecessor by being another tome infused with a lot of politics and intrigue. It’s there, but it definitely feels more like a smaller scale murder mystery, and is much shorter to suit this different style. 

So, while I imagine a lot of people who were drawn to this book primarily because of its association with The Goblin Emperor might be disappointed, it’s got a lot to offer as a fun stand-alone fantasy/mystery in its own right. And to those who are interested in it for that aspect without having read the prior book, I’d encourage you to give this a try, in hopes your experience will be a more balanced one.
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An immersive detective novel utilizing the fantasy motif, rivaling the best Sherlock Holmes adventure.  The main protagonist is Thara Celehar, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. At age thirteen he was ushered into this religious sect, and trained as a novitiate.  He has mastered his calling …  by touching the corpse of the newly deceased he can “talk” with them and actually at times is dragged into their memories at death. At times his duties supply identity and cause of death …  accidental or the all to often murder.  Celehar was a minor character in the beloved and highly acclaimed and award winning novel: The Goblin Emperor. 

This tale is actually a stand-alone occurring in the same universe as the preceding novel.  The same lush world building is again on display in this gem.  Utilizing the same byzantine type of political and court intrigue in the face of racial and social tension.  The inhabitants of this world are the elven ,held in higher esteem than the goblin folk, and there are those of mixed heritage.

  Celehar has been appointed a position of Witness for the Dead in the city of Amalo, far from the court, and expected to oversee the entire city. His presence stirs up an inordinate amount of animosity and jealousy in the local politicians.  He is a kind, decent and unassuming man, who only wishes to find the truth, which frequently is inconvenient and sometimes has disastrous results.  His skills in addition to finding identity, frequently aid in resolving disputes, and finding the killers of the murdered.  

      Sara Monette under the pseudonym of Katherine Addision weaves a convoluted and evocative narrative with a multitude of unexpected reveals as our intrepid detective investigates and interrogates with perceptive and deductive skills that astound.  The pacing is propulsive leading to a rapid page-turner.  This character driven drama revolves around solution of three mysteries.  Initially he is petitioned by the brother in the unexplained death of his pregnant sister.  He is concerned and suspects she was murdered by her husband. Inshiran was a lifelong and content spinster and an avid birdwatcher (often described “as dull as a door knob”).  She met Crois Avelonaran, quit her job , eloped, and was pregnant in 6 months and dead in 9 months.  He was petitioned to find her grave and “speak with her”  In the second mystery he was petitioned to find the identity and cause of death when a young elven woman, no more than thirty, is pulled from the canal.  She appeared to be a lady of means, based upon appearances and clothes. Upon touching her forehead he immediately learned that she was bludgeoned and pushed into the canal. Her identity and causation of murder unknown ( but would result in an intricate and thorough investigation by Celehar).  And, lastly he was requested to aid in the dispute of who the rightful heir would be, in a upper class family, when two wills appear.  He is able to discern this by reconnoitering with the deceased ashes.  Which unfortunately will lead to substantial problems for Celehar. The least of those, being called upon to “quiet” a ghoul, who is feating on the alive as well dead. 

      Addison expertly explores multiple themes, such as hypocrisy, revenge, retaliation. race and social status with her amazingly intricate world building and characterization skills. Intrigue and treachery percolate throughout the narrative.  Again, it is not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy and devour this captivating tale.  Monette / Addison are a welcome addition to my author must read list.  Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan- Tor / Forge for supplying an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.
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This was an enjoyable, pleasant book to read (especially considering it’s a murder mystery). It’s a return to the world of The Goblin Emperor (Maia doesn’t appear, but is mentioned), starring a minor character from The Goblin Emperor, and taking place far from the machinations and intrigues of the Imperial palace. It had the feel of a sequel to The Goblin Emperor, hitting that same kind of “the world isn’t necessarily great but as long as good people are doing their best it’ll be ok” vibe. (Having just read a Becky Chambers book, it’s that kind of feeling.) What it doesn’t quite have is that something (whatever it was) that made The Goblin Emperor such a perfect little book, though I’m happy to say it’s got at least something of it.


The protagonist of this book is Thara Celehar, the Witness for the Dead who was able to help find out who had killed Maia’s father and half-brothers. He has since left the Imperial palace and moved to a distant city, where his calling leads to him serving as a Witness for an unknown Elven woman who had been murdered and dumped in the river. He is able to glimpse her last moments, and it’s his responsibility to find out what happened to her.


I called this a murder mystery, and it is one, but it’s not really about the murder. This is about Thara as a person. The central mystery is the vehicle by which we learn about him. By the end of the story, I found I wasn’t nearly as interested to learn who the killer was as I was to learn how Thara felt about it.


Along the way he deals with some other cases of varying degrees of importance to both Thara and the reader. And this is where I think the book really does measure up in some degree to *The Goblin Emperor*. A number of those stories just … don’t really go anywhere. There’s not really a resolution to them. In some cases I don’t think I could tell you what the point of them was. But I didn’t mind, because they were each a vehicle to let us see more of our protagonist. The unifying thing in all these events is that we get to see more and more of how other people see our protagonist, though we’re doing so through Thara’s eyes. I’m sorry for how confusing that sentence ended up being, but it’s the best I can do.


I will mention that the names are every bit as confusing in this book as in The Goblin Emperor. 


In the end (my feelings on this book have settled by the act of writing this review), I’d say that though The Witness for the Dead isn’t as good as The Goblin Emperor, it’s still a worthy sequel.
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At a high level, it is really easy to tell if you should read The Witness for the Dead, by Katherine Addison. Have you read Addison’s famous book, The Goblin Emperor? If you have and like it, you will like this book a lot. If you haven’t, well, you should go read Emperor first. I reviewed Emperor a while ago, and had a very positive experience that was tempered by some consistent issues in the book. Witness has a very similar feel to its spiritual successor, both positively and negatively, but I think it’s a stronger book overall and definitely worth everyone’s time.

Witness is a pseudo-sequel to Emperor, in that it is a stand-alone story about a character from the first book. Witness actually has nothing to do with anything that happened in Emperor, but takes place afterward chronologically in the same world. Thara Celehar is a Witness for the Dead for the emperor. Thanks to his association with the leader of the world, he sits outside the typical hierarchical structure of the church, and a lot of his colleagues do not like his unique status and feel his lack of bureaucratic politicking makes him an undesirable person. As such, Celehar lives a quiet and solitary life on the margins of the court while pursuing his position as a Witness for the Dead. Witnesses can speak to the recently deceased and converse with their spirits to some degree. They function as one-third detective, one-third lawyer, and one-third priest – settling disputes, solving mysteries, and providing closure. The book follows Celehar over roughly a month of his life and recounts the various experiences he has as a Witness over this period.

Ostensibly, the main focus of the plot of Witness is the murder of an actress at the opera and Celehar’s investigation of what happened. In actuality, the book is much closer to the journal of a priest who happened to have a particularly eventful month. The structure of the story is very loose, and if you are looking for a murder mystery with a clear focus and fast-paced plot, look elsewhere. However, the laid-back and ambulatory nature of Witness’ plot absolutely works for it if you are open to a slower, more observational story. Celehar solves a variety of random side quests for people over the course of the story and they paint this vivid picture of the quiet lonely life of this man. Events in the book start to inject new flavor and experience into Celehar’s world and it fuels beautiful character growth and makes for some great heavy-hitting themes about the human experience.

Witness for the Dead is definitely a character-driven story, with a rich and deep ensemble cast. Each character is dripping with personality, and many of them are fabulously charming to boot. The entire opera cast stuck with me after I had finished the story, and I liked their interactions a lot. All of this is good, because similarly to my complaint about The Goblin Emperor — there isn’t much closure around the murder mystery that Celehar is investigating for most of the book. We just get to the last pages and Celehar simply states “oh, X did it” and then the book ends. When I first read it I was very frustrated with the abrupt end to the narrative, but after sitting with the book for a while I realized that closure around the mysteries isn’t really the point of Witness for the Dead. It’s about how the quest changed Celehar as a person and the new person he became – that is the true ending of the book and the closure you will get from the story.

So if you like character stories, this is a good one. It was a quiet thoughtful book that I enjoyed more than I thought I would and made me want to go back to The Goblin Emperor and reread it to see if I would like it more. If that isn’t a success, I don’t know what is.

Rating: The Witness for the Dead – 8.5/10
-Andrew
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Working with and speaking to the dead is not a job anyone wants to do, but Thara Celehar considers it his calling and his duty. Able to commune with the dead, Celehar's skills are often called upon to determine causes of death and to find answers to questions often taken to the grave.

The Goblin Emporer began with a bang. Your father died, you're now the emperor. That's a hard beginning to compete with. The start off here isn't as flamboyant. It's steady and demure, much like the main character himself.

It's been a few years since I've read the Goblin Emporer, so reading this book felt a bit confusing to me at first, given the vast quantity of foreign sounding names and numerous religions and cultural references. I never fully grasped them all in the Goblin Emperor. I mostly let them fly over my head. There's a vast depth of cultural development in this world, and there's probably an anthology or the like somewhere to explain it all for those interested, but I'm not detail oriented in that way. As long as the details aren't integral to the plot, I'm fine with understanding less than half of it. But that's just the religious and cultural and social etiquette details. The story itself winds and flows clearly, and is easy enough to follow if one ignores the surrounding noise. (There are like hundreds of different religious sects, for example. No way am I memorizing which was which.)

I don't mean to imply that all the foreign terms were overly confusing. It just takes some getting used to. By the time you get several chapters in, you end up thinking in the same patterns as the characters speak - lots of third person usage and other formal manners. It's extremely immersive in a good way.

Should one read the Goblin Emporer before this book? It would help. There are some parts that were clearer to me after I began rereading the Goblin Emperor while I was in middle of this book. (That was fun in and of itself.) But it's definitely not necessary. This is a separate story. Distinct from its sister book, focusing on a side character with barely any references to the events that took place in the other book. If you haven't read The Goblin Emperor, I strongly recommend doing so. It's so worth it on its own merits. But feel free to jump into reading these books in any order.

Celehar is a man who would rather talk to the dead than to the living. Not because he's unfriendly, but because he's quiet and reserved. He always presents an impeccably polite facade to everyone, whether he wants to strangle them or whether he's uninterested in their company. He's a nice sweet guy, and he is extremely thorough at whatever task he's called to, persevering no matter how complicated the task or how many dead ends he faces. His job brings him in close contact with corpses. His superiors hate him for political reasons, and most other people aren't keen to befriend him. But everyone knows which door to knock on when they need his services.  His job brings him to meet many types of people, from the worst degenerates to simple factory workers. The plot weaves between several small mysteries and subplots, each one interesting in its own way, from contested wills to murderous ghouls.

This book doesn't have a world saving hero, doomsday prophecy,  wicked witch, or other fantasy cliches. It simply follows the life of one man, and the repercussions his small actions have on society. You would think that would be boring, but this book is an immersive experience and a wonderful character journey, with in depth world building & complex characters. It's simple and sweet and leaves the reader feeling peaceful and satisfied at the end, like most "feel-good" fantasy.
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The Witness of the Dead is one of the most anticipated SciFi/Fantasy works of the year - the sequel to Katherine Addison's celebrated "The Goblin Emperor".  I didn't love the Goblin Emperor nearly as much as the general consensus - the book was often a fantasy parable on race that worked really well, even if a bit heavy handed, with excellent world building as it built a story of a half-goblin distant son of a ruler suddenly becoming emperor.  It featured court intrigue and scheming (it was advertised as a fantasy of manners) but mostly featured a young slightly naive but determined to be good ruler trying to make things work for the best of everyone, even as he was distrusted for his racial heritage.  But I didn't love it mainly because things wound up going too well for the hero, too easily, which kind of didn't work with the buildup, which made it all not hit as well for me.  Still I really enjoyed Addison's second* novel, The Angel of the Crows (a fantasy take on Sherlock Holmes) and was really interested to see how a new book in a world I did really enjoy would work.  

*Addison is actually a pen name for author Sarah Monette, but she has only three novels under the pen name.*

And I really liked The Witness of the Dead, which is a short (240 pages) novel featuring a character from The Goblin Emperor in a fantasy book that is largely a mystery novel (featuring multiple mysteries), to go along with some fantasy adventure beats and some more court scheming.  The protagonist, a Witness for the Dead who can see the last thoughts and observations of the recently deceased, finds himself trying to resolve disputes and mysteries involving those recently dead, which gets him into further trouble due to his own standing outside the typical political hierarchy, as well as his own tragic past (outlined in The Goblin Emperor, but you don't need to remember it for this book to work).  While the ending is a little abrupt, and not everything works, it is a very successful work that will please fans.  

--------------------------------------------------Plot Summary----------------------------------------------------
Thara Celehar is out of the Imperial Court - where he never felt comfortable - and now working once more as a Witness for the Dead in the city of Amalo.  It's a bit of an awkward position, in part due to his scandalous/tragic past and in part due to him having been appointed to this position outside of the usual political/religious hierarchy.  All Celehar wants is to use his ability to hear the last thoughts/observations of the recent dead to help mend disputes among the people, and not to deal with either politics or perhaps his own loneliness.  

But a series of petitions all at once causes him to once more be in a mess of public affairs: a dispute over multiple wills from a wealthy recently dead patriarch, a petition from a brother of a woman who had gone missing and been suspected dead after leaving her family to marry a husband who has disappeared, and most significantly, the appearance of a woman drowned through an act of murder.  As Celehar inspects each of these occurrences and searches for the truth, he finds himself involved in ethical matters he wanted once to avoid, that bring up memories of his tragic past, and will make it all the more difficult for him to find the right, good, and just path to go forward...assuming the politics of it all don't eat him alive. 
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The Witness of the Dead very much feels like a hybrid of Addison's prior two novels, taking the background and setting of The Goblin Emperor and marrying it to the mystery novel structure of The Angel of the Crows.  The story focuses in large part on the murder mystery of the woman dumped in the river, as Celehar investigates the opera-house the woman turns out to be a part of, but the other mysteries - the dispute over the will, which turns into a political nightmare, and the suspicion of the woman who was possibly married by her disappearing husband - work alongside that main focus, and all intertwine in Celehar's (and thus the reader's) own consciousness.  There also are fantasy adventure and fantasy of manners type subplots in here, as Celehar gets sent away to deal with a ghoul that has risen in a graveyard in a town a few hours away and has to deal with other religious/political figures who have their own ambitions they see threatened by Celehar's unusual appointment. 

This intertwining of it all works for the most part really well, thanks to the mysteries being interesting and Celehar being a fascinating character.  His past - revealed in The Goblin Emperor but explained well enough through asides here - of having fallen in love with a married man who then killed his wife due to his own urging and who Celehar wound up putting away still gives him nightmares, especially as he finds himself coming to the possibly-romantic-attention of another man with a motive for murder.  He's kind of introverted despite a job that involves being available to the public, and due to that scandal and the rest is desperate to avoid attention from politics and others, or to avoid scandal, or even just to avoid confrontation even when doing so involves putting his own needs to the side in favor of not challenging others.  And while Celehar winds up getting better at expressing himself and dealing with his own needs by the end of the book, he still has those problems all the same - there is no miracle solving for his character flaws and problems, he remains the same person, just a bit changed from the experiences in some ways.  

And again the mysteries and plot work really well, with both the main mysteries going in interesting if not particularly unique directions....but directions that work well under Addison's writing.  The fantasy elements also work really well, as Celehar first finds himself hunting down ghouls who arise when proper burial and gravekeeping procedures aren't kept for the dead, and has to put his life on the line to stop one in a town a little bit away.  There's also the man exiled ages ago who asks Celehar to help him deliver a letter to a long lost granddaughter and the ghosts of a massacre that Celehar has to experience for a full night....These plot elements work really well to show the tragedies of the past and how we try to move forward from them, themes that are done far more subtly than in The Goblin Emperor.  

Not everything works really well honestly.  As seems to be a habit in Addison books, the ending is incredibly abrupt and relies on some coincidences that allow the mystery to be wrapped up really quickly out of seemingly nowhere, which is a bit of a disappointment.  And the Court Intrigue plotline, dealing with two leaders in the hierarchy who try to cause problems for Celehar at times due to his being appointed from outside - who essentially begin the book's entire narrative - doesn't really work as the characters disappear for long stretches of time and never really make any emotional impact....I never really care about this conflict or got why it matters - so when this conflict seems to result in Celehar losing certain political protection, I never got why that should matter or if it even did in this book.  

Still for the most part, it works really really well in a nice tight short novel package.  And there's more that could be done with Celehar's character journey if Addison wanted to, so if she wants to write any more sequels, I will definitely be there.
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DNF. I thought this was a stand-alone novel - meaning, I didn't have to read the first novel to be able to understand this one. That was not true. There is no exposition in this book, so while the story might be able to stand on its own, first time readers like myself will probably not be able to fully understand the world, that this book is set in. Also, the writing just didn't sit well with me. I found it quite annoying.
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