Stars: 5 out of 5.
I adore Martha Wells' Murderbot series, but the two other books I read by her had left me underwhelmed. They were okay, but not up to the glory that is Murderbot. So I was understandably apprehensive to pick up a new series by her. But I am glad I did.
We start right in the middle of the story with our protagonist Kai in dire circumstances and no memory as to how he got into them. I fell like this was an excellent idea, because the confusion the reader feels, having to wrestle with new words and concepts in a brand new world, mirrors what Kai feels when he wakes up dead and entombed. This might discourage some readers, but I loved it.
One thing Martha Wells does really well is creating likeable characters. They are flawed and sometimes morally grey, but they feel "alive", and you can't help but root for them. I especially loved Kai. Who would have thought that a demon could be so "human". I also loved that the chapters set in the present are interspersed with chapters set in the past, back when Kai first came to the world above in his first body. You can really see how much he changed in the almost two centuries since that event, and you understand him a lot better as a person the more you see how the events unfolded.
I loved all the supporting characters as well. Ziede is baddass and witty and a perfect foible for Kai's often introspective and melancholic nature. Together they form an unstoppable force akin to a hurricane. Especially when they seek answers and their loved ones might be in danger. Kai's relationship with Sanja and Tenes shows his softer side, because even though he is a demon, he has compassion towards people who have been abused and enslaved. He lived through that, so he knows how it feels. I loved his relationship with Bashara in the past.
I also enjoyed going on the road trip with those characters and progressively discovering the world they inhabit. I loved seeing most places through the lens of what they are today and what they were at the time Kai fought the Hierarchs.
This book gives a pretty satisfactory conclusion to the main story. We find out what happened, and Kai and Ziede's loved ones are rescued. Kai is reminded of the purpose him and Bashara had when they fought the Hierarchs and hopefully finds the strength and will to carry on. But there are still a few threads that were left hanging, so I'm hoping that this is the beginning of a new series. I want to know what happened to the other demons Kai had liberated from the Summer Halls. Since none of them could return to their home underearth, are they still living in this world? Or did most of them dissipate after their borrowed body died? Will the Hierarchs be back? Why did they kill off an entire people just because they could reveal their origins? So many questions!
I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Unfortunately, I did not care enough about this book to continue reading it. I didn’t liked the writing or the characters, nothing was happening so I had to DNF it at 20% in.
Many thanks to NetGalley for the copy!
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book.
Witch King was a top read of my year last year! I felt like I had been dropped in the middle of a series and had to work for the world building, which I enjoy! The characters were new and refreshing!
I was SO excited to read my first Martha Wells book outside of the Murderbot Diaries, but it gave me a lot of conflicting feelings 😔 Witch King sounded fantastic with a Demon Prince and his mysterious imprisonment, but the execution left a lot to be desired. In the end, I <strong>settled on 3 stars</strong>, as I enjoyed some of the characters and ideas but felt like the convoluted worldbuilding and slow pace took away from my reading experience.
✅<strong>The idea and concept held so much potential!</strong> I was immediately drawn in by the image of a Demon King who’s a bit of a black sheep of his people and has been around for centuries. A deadly betrayal resulting in Kai’s imprisonment and us finding out about it via dual timeline could have been an amazing setup. The idea and tension of the premise were so good and what made me name this as one of my most anticipated releases. I love demons in my Fantasy books in general and I <strong>liked what we saw of the Demon world and their interactions with humans</strong> via the possession of certain vessels (people who have died and are then possessed by a demon). The relationships between the demons and the <strong>humans’ attitude towards demons were such interesting aspects of the story</strong> that I would have liked to see explored more. Kai switches between bodies of various genders throughout the story and encounters different reactions to him being a demon. The angst and internal dilemmas we saw were so good, I wanted more of that!
<strong>❌ The worldbuilding was convoluted and despite its volume, very mismatched and surface-level.</strong> I feel like the author was trying to build an impressive fantasy world, but went a bit overboard. <strong>I don’t mind complex magic systems or intricate worlds, but I didn’t see a cohesive worldbuilding anywhere.</strong> We have witches, demons, sorcerers and Hierarchs, on top of multiple countries with their own cultures (some of whom don’t exist in the present anymore). The <strong>author barely explained any of her concepts and expected the reader to somehow figure it out from the avalanche of details she provided in her description</strong> (from the landscape to languages to the fashion style of <em>every</em> single culture, there were simply too many things to pay attention to at once). <strong>Sadly, this was the opposite of an infodump – the author didn’t explain <em>anything</em></strong>. Luckily, I knew this going into the story and I actually took notes, but even they didn’t help. Some things, like the origin and true motives of the Hierarchs were still NOT explained by the very end and a lot of concepts remained very superficial because we never got a proper explanation to how they work.
<strong>✅ Kai was one of the best things about Witch King.</strong> He’s the titular character and a powerful demon prince who has been possessing human bodies for centuries. I <strong>loved his wry humor</strong> and capacity for violence and power, though he also had compassion for others such as Sanja. I wish we had seen more of his humor though, as I feel like it would have made the book a bit lighter. Kai has a vivid past full of loss and pain, but also strong companions such as Ziede who are on his side. <strong>I loved seeing his more vulnerable moments</strong> and the struggles with what the Hierarchs did to him and his kind. His dynamic with Bashara in the past was really intriguing and the<strong> connection he forms with Ramad in the present really spoke to me</strong>. Sadly, Kai and Ramad’s dynamic kind of fades out and I was a bit disappointed that the author never properly had Kai express any romantic feelings.
<strong>✅ Kai’s friendship with Ziede and the found family vibes warmed my heart.</strong> I loved the easy banter and deep loyalty between <strong>Kai and Ziede, you can tell that they have been friends for ages</strong>. Even better that there’s nothing romantic at all between them, Ziede is dedicated to her wife, who she’s desperate to see again after being imprisoned alongside Kai. <strong>Sanja is a little girl who was freed from the sorcerer who kidnapped her and brought her as a sacrifice for Kai.</strong> I loved how she didn’t leave, even when given the chance and stuck with Kai. One of my favorite tropes is found family, so I wanted to see even more of these dynamics 🥺
<strong>❌ There were a TON of characters, but most of them didn’t get any meaningful Arcs of their own>.</strong> The fact that the <strong>book opens with a multiple-page long “Cast of Characters” index was a bit of a red flag for me</strong> from the very beginning. Especially as there are characters in the Past and Present to keep track of. Some of them, I didn’t find that relevant or interesting and after a while, I <strong>gave up trying to learn the names of the random side characters</strong> and focused on the main cast. It just made me sad that characters like Ramad, who had an interesting (almost romantic) dynamic with Kai didn’t get much development, as I saw so much potential in them!
<strong>PLOT & WRITING</strong>
<strong>✅ The beginning of the story had so much promise</span>! </strong> When Kai awakened and found himself almost enslaved by a sorcerer was such a good opening with lots of tension and suspense. I was actually excited to read more as I was eager to find out who had betrayed Kai and why they had done it. After breaking out with his friend and a girl he saved from the sorcerer … it sadly all went downhill. <strong>I did love the audiobook narrator</strong>, but was only able to listen to the first two chapters that were shared by the publisher for free. I’d definitely recommend the audiobook, as I feel like it makes reading this a lot faster and more engaging! Generally, <strong>I also like Martha Wells’ writing style, there is no doubt that she’s a talented author</strong> and her Murderbot Diaries – that I love so much – definitely prove it.
<strong>❌ The plot was incredibly slow and not much happened. </strong> The first couple of chapters were great, but it all went downhill from there, as I was waiting for the action to start. If I had to sum it up, I’d say that the majority of the book is just travelling. <strong>The actual progress Kai and his team were making was so small and the fact that we had two timelines didn’t help</strong>. The Present chapters were sometimes altered with Past chapters and the latter were a chore to get through.
<strong>❌ The ending fell flat and all the work I invested in trying to understand the world didn’t pay off.</strong> That was probably the most devastating part of the book. After taking notes and trying to work through the book for days, the ending was so unimpressive. There were no great twists or shocking reveals. <strong>Even worse, there was no proper buildup for the reason Kai was imprisoned, so it felt completely fabricated</strong>. The story had such potential to lean into the political intrigue of the world, but it never did anything with it!
<strong>❌ I enjoyed the Past chapters the least and they really dragged down the story. </strong> There were too many of them IMO and I <strong>would have rather focused on the Present chapters with an occasional flashback</strong> when it was relevant. Often it felt like the chapters of <strong>Kai’s past life were like textbook entries</strong> meant to teach us about the world. Very few of them had any actual intrigue and most of them dragged so much that I was looking forward to being done with them. They <strong>didn’t offer the insight into Kai’s world and past that the author was hoping for</strong>. Instead, they added more names and concepts that were barely explained.
This was actually my first Martha Wells book, and it made me a fan! Great characters, and I really appreciated that the worldbuilding was so well thought-out. I also really liked the magic aspect. Off I go to read Murderbot now.
This is the crosshairs of science fiction and fantasy. It had so many great elements and fresh concepts.
Ugh, what an absolutely incredible, brilliantly-written book. The absolute brilliance of the parallel time structure building out a picture of what you need to understand politically by the mirrored moments and different perspectives in time building a picture out of what is not explicitly said.
The Witch King is fantastic in both what's actually present -- well-written characters with strong feelings and drive, great motivations, an incredible magic system, tattered politics happening all around them, intense emotionally drive -- and especially in what isn't.
The camera is very close to Kai's pov, while still being 3rd person and thus shutting us out of some of it, which is necessary because he is so deeply wounded and traumatized that he refuses to think too much on some things. Many things come out in the holes and wounds and scars and empty spaces where something should be. We see a parallel movement structure between the same spaces across a very different period of time, and thus what we do have builds a picture out of what we're not permitted to see.
The book uses the written equivalent of negative space brilliantly. We learn so much about the depths of his feelings on the things that are central to the story (if not to the immediate plot he's always dealing with) by his reactions. This also makes it a harder read: it wants you to read it very closely and NOTICE what's not being said when, where the empty spaces are. This is true of the worldbuilding (it's a story of a place where entire cultures have been wiped out, and you need to pay attention to that to understand the worldbuilding! Oral histories are gone! The new generation's understanding of events are different! Why? The answers are all there, but they require you to stop and interpret it). It's also true and of the romances and the feelings and the politics. So... yeah. Go in prepared for this not to be "oh he's refusing to think about it so i'm sure we'll be told this directly later as readers" but instead go in thinking "oh, he's refusing to think about it. Why. What does this mean."
It's very queer. it feels inspired by mo dao zu shi and land of the lustrous to some extent (I don't know if it is or isn't, but it feels that way) -- and if that sounds like a headfuck combo, then yeah, it is, but enjoy it. It's merciful. It's grief-stricken. It's a story about love that lasts past death via intentions, even if only in the heart of the survivor of that love. It's about unexpectedly surviving so you continue because you're not ready to stop yet, because other people need you and have asked things of you.
Absolutely brilliant story. I cannot wait for the sequel I hear Wells is working on. I don't know her but I want to get on a call with her immediately and pick her brain about her use of empty space and just tell her to her face how wonderful it is. Like to the point I genuinely am like, if I contacted her agent would she let me just tell her in person? I never get like that, but here we are. Great book, I want to read it five times in a row and learn all its secrets from where they hide in shadows, and I'd love to reread the beginning since catching on about its use of negative space so I can like, dig into that fully from the start.
This book was a really cool concept that didn't quite stick the landing. I wish that it had been split into multiple novels honestly, as this one felt disjointed and too complicated for just one novel. Oh well!
I find it difficult to rate this book. It's a captivating read, but the frequent time shifts didn't work for me. Switching between different timelines can enhance a reading experience. However, in this case, it felt like Martha Wells wanted to write a trilogy, and her publisher shot down the request, so she wrote this book instead. Like, the first book took place in the flashback chapters, there was no second book, and the third book was in the remaining chapters.
Reading the flashback chapters and then going back to read the present chapters helped me with my understanding of the world and characters.
I wish this book were a proper trilogy, allowing the author to flesh out the world and characters more. I enjoyed the characters and would love to see more of them.
This review is based on an advanced reader copy provided through Netgalley for an honest review.
*I received an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I really liked the first MurderBot Diaries novella from Martha Wells, and was looking forward to reading a full length novel from her.
This novel was a little denser of a fantasy than I typically go for, and I found the story a little confusing. I ended up skimming passages more than really deeply reading it, and I think it's more a reflection that I don't enjoy this type of novel more than anything. I have read very little adult fantasy before this (I tend to read more YA). It wasn't bad, but it was so much my cup of tea.
This was a really cool concept, but I felt like I was missing backstory and context to understand what was happening — especially at the start of the book. I really enjoyed the characters and how they interacted with each other, even though I was confused about what was happening, and I am intrigued enough to try one of Wells’s other series to see if that will clear up some of the world building questions I have about this book!
Unfortunately, Which King falls into the “not for me” category. I loved the beginning and was anticipating a slam dunk, but as the story progressed I felt like it was all political maneuvering, world and magic system building. I had an extremely hard time following the story line because so little of it was linked to character or relationship development. That is by no means a fault of the book or writing, it is just not what I prefer to read, so I lost interest quickly and kept checking out.
Plot - 3
Writing and Editing - 4
Character Development - 2
Personal Bias - 2
Final Score - 2.75
Thank you Martha Wells, Tordotcom, and NetGalley for my gifted digital copy in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
definitely entertaining and i liked the found family trope as well as the cast of characters and speculative fiction themes
Thank you Netgalley for making the arc accessible for me in exchange of my honest review.
I really loved this book, I have never read something quite like it and I really need more stories set in the same world. I love how demons can leave they body and take over human bodies like actually physically;ly not just internally like we have seen on tv. The main character Kai was amazing, one thing I really enjoy is the humor through the story, I think it gave it a special touch. I honestly don't know what else to say. This book was full of adventures and if you love standings and video games you will totally love this book.
Did not disappoint. I wasn't sure what to expect moving from SciFi to Fantasy, but the world building is top notch and the character development is just as good as Murderbot. Just really loved the setting and the plot. I can't say I would recommend to folks who just loved Murderbot, but if you liked that and already enjoy fantasy, I don't think you can miss with this.
I can't deny, it's a good book. the world building is phenomenal and the story is so carefully plotted and told, it's undeniable. However, I just felt emotionally detached from all those characters, no investment, nothing. Someone could die and I would not care. A good book but it lacked human attachment. 3 stars
When I saw Martha’s new release was here I couldn’t wait to dive in. With the success of Murderbot I was dying to give a new release in a whole knew world a try. And she didn’t disappoint!
Don't go into this book thinking it's a Murderbot substitute, it's different world-building and character work. It's very much an adventure story with darker themes so you have to keep track of where things are situated and what's happening with the characters. Regardless Martha Wells is a masterful storyteller.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This was the first book that I've read by Welles, and it was an intimidating feat. This novel was a beast to get through, but that's what one expects from an epic fantasy novel. I adored the characters and Welles' worldbuilding but the information dump can be exhausting for readers. If you struggle with lyrical prose, I suggest that you skip this book. I enjoyed this read and I believe that it is worth powering through. Our high fantasy loving patrons will devour this book, I can't wait to see their reactions.