Cover Image: Witch King

Witch King

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Member Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley, Tor, and Ms. Wells for the opportunity to read an ARC of this title. An honest review was requested but not required.

I will say this: if you are coming to this book solely to get your greedy hands on a MurderBot fix, you are going to be disappointed. This is NOT MurderBot. MurderBot is (snarky, sarcastic, hilarious) SciFi. *This*, Witch King is High Fantasy.

Honestly, and this is solely my opinion, YMMV, but I sort of feel that High Fantasy is a under-appreciated art form. At work I feel like I see a lot of readers who are into the "latest Patterson" or whatever TikTok told them to read or a KU book where the author writes "weary" instead of wary and "conscious" instead of conscience, SMH. Do people still have the attention span to dive into a fully realized fantasy world? I'll admit: the Dramatis Personae chapter at the beginning was daunting. My advice: skip it. It's frankly very confusing and I had no problem learning the characters' names organically as I read. I could see that chapter being an absolute roadblock in an audiobook.

Kai was a terrific character. Don't get me wrong, Kai is no MurderBot (my forever favorite), but I've been loving antiheroes lately and Kai was a terrific exemplar. He exhibits a lot of charisma and a sardonic personality that made me root for him even as he guzzled people like a Chick Fil A milkshake. As much as I strongly dislike dual timeline stories, I felt that the format worked here to fill in Kai's backstory.

I struggled a little bit with keeping the location names straight, and some of the titles of the various characters, but it's partially my fault, as I kept trying to read in places full of distractions. Frankly, I think the story could stay as a standalone but I could see the possibilities should Ms. Wells choose to develop the characters or world further. Even though it was a fairly complex and dense story, it was well worth the read and I would highly recommend this to readers who (a) like a good high/epic fantasy and (b) aren't expecting a MurderBot installment. I have already purchased this for my library's fiction collection.
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** Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review **

In this story, our main character, Kai, has been murdered and his consciousness has been dormant and confined in an elaborate water trap. Now he needs to figure out who imprisoned him and what exactly has happened in his absence. During this time, he must depend on his closest allies to help him find the answers.

I love the way that Wells creates characters and I really enjoyed the ones we met in this book. Especially Kai! He was an interesting character and I enjoyed getting to know more about his past. I also loved the found family that was featured in this book.

I thought the worldbuilding was unique which is something I’m coming to associate with Wells’ writing. It was a bit tricky to follow at times, but overall was very interesting.

The book did feel a bit drawn out. I found myself struggling through the back half of the book and because of this the ending felt a bit anti-climatic. I think this would have done well as a series.

I also would have loved more time with these characters, mainly because of the found family aspect. The ending did feel like a standalone, but I would have loved to dig deeper into some of the side characters like Sanja or Tenes.

This book is very different from the Murderbot series (in my opinion only having read All Systems Red), but if you love the way Wells writes characters and world builds, I do think you’ll have fun with this one!
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Martha Wells might just be the love of my life, and Witch King was as brilliant as I’d hoped it would be. (I was fighting for my LIFE to get early access to this book!)

We are very much dropped into the beginning of one story and the middle of another, and both come together quite wonderfully to bring us to an end. In typical Martha Wells fashion, these characters and world are incredibly diverse, witty, and deadly. Bursts of cruelty and violence drop your jaw, rapid fire back and forth dialogue makes you laugh, moments of betrayal and reflection and devastation makes your hurt, and glimpses of tenderness warm your heart.

Oh, to be world-weary immortals whittled down by the cruelties of war, yet still finding the strength to do whatever it takes to cling to the family you’ve fought to make for yourself. When everyone you care for knows loss intimately, what’s left of you will not be taken so easily, not again. I adored Kai, who is so very tired and unbelievably traumatized yet strong, quick thinking and self-sacrificing (that perseverance is something fierce), and Ziede with her sharp mouth and hilarious dry humor and incredible craft, and Sanja, so young and curious and brave, and others who I won’t name because I’ll keep going on and on and you should read it for yourselves really.

I just love characters who are surrounded by darkness and feared by all yet still have it in them to be soft towards others. 🥹

Congrats to Martha Wells for another amazing book release, and shoutout to Tordotcom for my copy! I am OBSESSED!

CW: genocide, graphic violence and descriptions war, slavery, many many deaths
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Kai wakes up in a watery tomb. His body has been murdered, but his consciousness finds a new host from among those who had come hoping to enslave him. Kai, you see, is a demon from the Under Earth. So after a brief spot of revenge killing, he finds his friend, Ziede (a Witch who can control the wind), and the pair set out on a mission to find Ziede’s missing wife, figure out who imprisoned them – and most of all: why.

Interspersed with these chapters are flashbacks to Kai’s early life on the upper earth, in a different body, and at a point where the lands around him erupt into war. The powerful and mysterious Hierarchs are using terrible magic to conquer everything in their path; they seem unstoppable. Some fight back, others hope to curry favour and be allowed some autonomy in this new world order, and others are looking for less direct ways to resist.

I really wanted to love this book a lot more than I did – and not just because I adore Murderbot; I was more than willing to let this be its own beast, in a different genre. It was still an enjoyable read, but ultimately just didn’t engage me as much as I thought it should have.

First off, I’m not sure the alternating timelines really worked. The present day quest seems oddly pedestrian in comparison to the war of nations in the past, especially at the beginning, and I found it a little difficult to keep the two separate as we went on, despite the clear chapter headings. There’s a sense that the earlier timeline is meant to explain some of the latter, but overall it didn’t feel like enough was explained.

I really liked Kai as a character, but both timelines presented him as somewhat passive and usually confused. This is a creature of immense power, but he seems unaware of a lot of it at points, and almost meanders his way through both plotlines. There are so many things about this power that I thought needed a bit more exploration if not explanation. For example, why do the grasslands tribe ‘invite’ demons to possess their recently deceased – what exactly are the two sides getting out of this? While Kai is frequently clumsy in getting used to a new body, not much else is said about it. Going from a young girl to a full grown man – surely that invites commentary or some kind?

To be honest, I’m not sure any of the characters were fleshed out enough. I liked them anyway, but Ziede seemed to be defined almost solely by her need to find her wife; Bashasa is benevolent and kind and … that’s kind of his single characteristic. Hmm.

Overall it’s not a bad story at all, it just feels like it could have been that much better presented a little differently. Even as I appreciate the lack of bloat, I wonder if it would have been better written as say a trilogy, giving it a chance for the depth I think was missing not to mention answering some of the questions raised along the way (mystery is great, but loose threads not so much), but as it is it doesn’t feel like there’s more to come.

A slightly baffling, slightly disappointing one. Still came across as a decent enough read, full of interesting concepts, and yet… hmm.
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DNF at about 50%.  I just don’t want to deal with a book that drops me in the middle of a story without any context, only offering an expositional list of names and backstory.  I had to flip back to the list constantly, which didn’t really give me opportunity to connect to the story.  I also think my type of reading vibes more around emotions but I experienced none.  Mostly because I never saw an opportunity to start caring about the characters and nothing felt “at stake” for me.  I think the concept of this book could be something I’d enjoy, it’s just the execution and choice of narration that doesn’t work for me.  

Many thanks to the author and Tor for the arc that I was able to read.
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I knew I wanted to read this simply based on the author alone, but I was still blown away by this book! I loved the style of worldbuilding and storytelling that Wells uses in this book. If an author wants to display how to use flashbacks correctly, this book should be first on the examples list. These characters are so interesting and display the most creative uses of the magic system Wells' designed. While simple in plot, this story does everything right and is endlessly compelling to read; once I started it, I couldn't stop. 
I kept waiting for the infamous 'lore dump,' but it never came and yet I always had the history and information I needed for the rest of the plot. I kept wanting more but was never confused. Now that the groundwork has been laid, I cannot wait to read more in this world. I know it's not the most surprising response to this book, but Martha Wells has done it again and I wait with baited breath for everything else she decides to write.
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Title: Witch King
Author: Martha Wells

Release Date: May 30th, 2023*

Category: Fantasy

Synopsis: Kai's having a long day in Martha Wells' Witch King....

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence?

Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions.

He’s not going to like the answers.

Quote: Ashem was too naïve for this world if she thought people were only cruel when there was a point to it.

The UnReel Take:
Story: 5
Writing: 6
Characters: 9
Setting: 6
UnReel AR: 6.25

Bottom Line: Like a lot of readers, I am OBSESSED with Martha Wells’ Murderbot series, and was excited to pick up some of her fantasy. Unfortunately, Witch King didn’t work nearly as well.
To give credit where it’s due, Wells is a great character author. Kai, the eponymous Witch King, is literally a soul-sucking demon and his BFF is a witch who skins people, and they’re both super likable. Witch King also features several immortal characters, including our two leads, and I think Wells did a good job showing how immortality can make you 1) a force to be reckoned with and 2) freaking tired. My favorite character, Bashasa, didn’t get enough page time but was an absolute treasure whenever he popped up.

There is a found family element that I enjoyed as well, but it was too bogged down in other story elements to really shine.

Onto the rough stuff.

The plot of Witch King made no sense. There were a ton of holes, revelations didn’t land because you hadn’t even met the characters involved in them, and how three of the world’s biggest badasses came to be imprisoned wasn’t really explained. This book also includes a dual timeline that wasn’t incorporated well at all. It probably would’ve been better to split this into two books or a prequel novella and a book.

Y’all….the worldbuilding in this. I wanted to like it SO BAD. There are so many individual elements that are super cool (like an underearth inhabited by demons where everything is made out of smoke) but it just didn’t come together. Having read the book cover-to-cover, I couldn’t tell you anything about the antagonists or the various cultures represented. This is by design to an extent, but it left me feeling really disconnected from the story. I’m not sure if Witch King will be turned into a series, wherein the world could be fleshed out further, but I don’t know if I’d pick up book two. Also, a map would’ve been really helpful, but they might put one in the final release.
As with most ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) the text had numerous typos and grammatical errors that will likely be fixed before the final release. There’s also some really modern phrasing that didn’t blend well into the world and characters, diminishing the quality of Wells’ normally strong writing.

Ideal Reading Location: By the pool, with your feet dangling in the deep end. (If you know, you know).

Drink Pairing: Shiner TexHex Bruja’s Bew IPA, just to feel in on the action.

*I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Witch King is for fans of "The Old Guard", a tinge of demons, and mystery. Switching between timelines in the present and the past, readers are trying to figure out what happened to Kai. And, most importantly, who can he trust? Not only does this allow us to figure out the world, but it creates this tension between who these people are in his present, and their previous actions in the past. Can we trust everything they're saying? While I appreciated this narrative choice, the switches felt a bit sudden at some points which caused me difficulty in figuring out a solid sense of who everyone - including Kai - was.
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Tnanks to Tordotcom for the copy of this book!

I picked this up after hearing from friends how good the Murderbot series is, but knowing that this book is also going back to Martha Wells' fantasy roots. I'm always ready for a dark fantasy + witchy read and this one starts off with a bang, but unfortunately I DNFed at 40%. For an epic quest, I was honestly really bored. I can see how a lot of people will really enjoy this one, and I absolutely intend to try the Murderbot series, but this one just wasn't for me.
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Necromancy fantasy story. I’m absolutely feral for that, love it. Following two different timelines of two v. powerful characters. Solid magic system, solid character work as Well’s is known to be good for. Can feel unsatisfactory and almost surface level world. Easy to lack actually caring for the characters. Like the writing and whatnot, but the lack of depth is slightly disappointing. Not a bad book by any means, but there is quite a bit of room and need for progress.
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Source: DRC via NetGalley (Tor Publishing Group, Tordotcom) in exchange for an honest review
Publication Date: May 30, 2023
Synopsis: Goodreads
Purchase Link: Amazon

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Why did I choose to read this book?

I had heard so much about the Murderbot series that when I saw the chance to pick up a new series by Martha Wells I couldn’t pass it up. I do mean to bring myself around to the Murderbot series eventually, but a fantasy series is much more up my alley.

What is this book about?

I have to be up front with you and say that I don’t know what this book is about. On the very surface level it’s about overthrowing tyranny and installing a more democratic system for society. This is even more important in a society where magic exists. On a more micro level there has been an agreement between the underearth and humans after a great war that demons would inhabit the dying members of honored families so that their last moments can be relayed to the family and the demon would then go on to create children who would become witches. This agreement is what fueled the Hierarchs, who promote demon and witch hatred and work to rid the world of what they see as abominations.

So I think this book is about how Kai (a major demon) and his friends work against the Hierarchs to give the world back to its people.

What is notable about this story?

The magic system in this book is elemental based and I loved it. Wisps and imps and spirits and ghosts – anything that nature could house and support is in this book, both good and bad. I love the idea that the world is alive and this book embraces so many of the ideas that are out there that support this ideology.

I also appreciated the idea that while gendered pronouns are used, demons inhabit humans regardless of gender. So there are male demons in female bodies, and visa versa, and this gender bending felt natural enough that I would recommend reading this book to someone who may not be 100% all the way to understanding gender fluidity.

Witches would often have their voices taken away as part of the Hierarch/expositor torture, so a sign language system was developed and called Witchspeak. I enjoyed the accessibility of communication in the story, especially in the face of people who would stop at nothing to see people silenced.

Was anything not so great?

This book gets REALLY saggy from like 45-65% through (I read this advance copy on Kindle so I can be that exact for you). I had to push and push and push to read through to the conclusion. I mentioned earlier that this was my first book by this particular author, so unlike other authors that I have stuck with and know that slogging through is worth it in the end, this was a big struggle for me. It was worth it, but gosh I just wish that it didn’t slow down as much as it did.

What’s the verdict?

3 stars on Goodreads. Definitely a book I would recommend, but not one that I would scream at you to GO GET IT RIGHT NOW, because this can wait. Just don’t wait too long, because I bet there’s a second book coming and you want to be ready for it. If Martha Wells’ reputation is to be believed, it will only get better from here.
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I really enjoyed the Witch King. If you like fantasy books with complex worlds, a cast of characters, and an excellent magic system, I think you would enjoy this book. It reminds me of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The camaraderie between all the characters is similar, and the way they come together and form a support system. This book is for you if you're a fan of the "found family" trope. I also liked how the chapters alternated between Kai's past and present situation. I feel that gave depth to his character and the rest of the group. I highly recommend this book to any fantasy lover.
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I discovered Martha Wells through her Murderbot Diaries, and while I’m not normally a big fan of science fiction, her writing and character development had me hooked immediately. As I learned more about her previous works, I was excited to see she has written fantasy as well, but I just hadn’t gotten around to picking anything up yet. When news dropped that she was writing her first fantasy novel in over a decade, I was thrilled, and when I received an ARC via NetGalley, I was ecstatic and started it right away. 

WITCH KING is a slow burn of a book, and the reader is dropped directly into the story with no context as to what’s going on. For some, this can be off putting, but if you’re willing to commit, the payoff is worth it. Told via dual timelines, starting from when Kai, the demon King of the Witches, escapes from his prison, and then alternatively, the backstory of how Kai is imprisoned to begin with, the entire story is laid out, and questions are answered. 

Much like SecUnit from the Murderbot Diaries, Kai is not a likable person; ultimately, it’s what has been done to him by outside forces that makes him the way he is. Also much like the societies from the Murderbot Diaries, gender and sexual stereotypes are tossed out the window, with Wells creating a world where anyone is free to love and be with anyone of their choosing, and the idea that anything is a binary is, frankly, absurd and unnecessary. 

This book is not going to be for everyone, and I think for many that came to Wells’ writing via Murderbot, this is going to be a departure. Personally, this book just cemented for me that I am a Martha Wells fan, regardless what genre she’s writing. Even when her characters aren’t likable, they are; her world building is inclusive; her pacing is spot on for me. I’m quite happy she is having her moment, with parts of her back catalogue being reintroduced by Tor; she deserves the accolades. 

WITCH KING by Martha Wells releases May 30, 2023, from Tordotcom Publishing. 

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Tordotcom Publishing for a free eARC of WITCH KING in exchange for an honest review. 

#WitchKing #MarthaWells #NetGalley #TordotcomPublishing
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Many thanks to Tor Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with this digital advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is my own, honest thoughts about this book.

Witch King by Martha Wells marks a return to the fantasy genre for the beloved author known for her exceptional Murderbot series. Following the titular character Kai, our Witch King, Wells drops us into the present day after Kai wakes from his recent assassination in a watery tomb and must venture with his merry band of allies and orphans to figure out who has betrayed him and what has happened in the time since his death. Throughout the rest of the story, we switch back between present day and the past, following Kai's journey in the human realm and the war he finds himself in after he's cut off from the demon realm. 

While Wells has demonstrated her mastery of witty dialogue and complex character development in her previous works, this novel unfortunately falls short of those high expectations. The heavy-handed world-building, slow pacing, and lackluster secondary characters are all factors that contribute to a sense of disappointment, especially for readers familiar with Wells' ability to create compelling and memorable characters, and the exchanges between them fail to capture the same spark and cleverness, resulting in a less engaging reading experience overall.

The world-building, another aspect in which Wells has previously excelled, is a point of contention in Witch King. While a fantasy novel often requires significant world-building to immerse readers in a new and unique setting, in this case, you are dropped straight into a this world with very little exposition. There is no hand-holding in this world and you must sink or swim while navigating the story. Additionally, the pacing of Witch King is a source of frustration. The slow progression of the plot can make it challenging to maintain a sense of momentum and engagement, especially when switching between past and present timelines within the novel. 

While Witch King may not live up to the high standards set by Wells' Murderbot series, it is important to approach it as a separate work. Readers who appreciate her unique storytelling style and her previous fantasy works may still find elements to enjoy. However, for those seeking the same level of witty dialogue, complex character development, and engaging secondary characters, Witch King may not provide the same level of satisfaction.
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Absolutely loved it! We’re dropped into the world of Kaiisteron, a demon from the underearth, in two different timelines: the past, in which Kai bands together with newfound allies to take on the Hierarchs (a genocidal colonizing peoples), and the present, set two-ish mortal generations after the past, in which Kai wakes up in a watery grave and has to puzzle out what’s happened to him and why, with some familiar faces along the way. 

Wells provides nearly no exposition yet manages to feed the reader just enough to follow the plot — if just by the skin of their teeth — in a richly detailed and well developed world vaguely, vaguely reminiscent of the Bronze Age Middle East and Central Asia (with lots of magic added). It’s an active read, and one I’m already looking forward to rereading for the fullest picture. 

The fantasy setting and magical system are creatively done, and absolutely drew me in, as did the mystery element of the plot as Kai and crew race to figure out what’s happened, but what really got me was the characters. Full of heart and pain and complex dynamics, yet also full of love, Kai and his chosen family kept me from wanting to put this book down. 

Additionally, within the split storyline, to see how these immortal or extremely-long-lived beings came to fight a battle they had no hope of winning, and then to see them grappling with being some of the only beings left of that historical moment two generations later, was a fascinating element that really got the social sciences person in me going. We as the reader get so much of Kai’s inner thoughts, but he shares so few of them in-world, and this provides a great lense through which to experience the book’s adventures. 

I’m desperately hoping we get at least one more with these characters!
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This ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

The Witch King is the perfect mix between a beautiful engaging writing and an original fantasy plot! This is the first book by the author I’ve read and I doubt it will be the last. As said previously, the writing style very easily snatches you into the story and the characters’ complex personality and storyline have you invested throughout.
It was a complete change of scenery. I’ve read many fantasies but few which create their own world to this extend. I would say the one negative point (which can also be considered as a positive one, depending on how we perceive it) is that this change can, at the beginning, be a bit much. 
Indeed, in that way, the influx of new terms can really be a lot and it took me around 30% of the book and the constant past and present switch of the chapters to understood most of the action. Now this may sound like a big no-no but it was also a very creative way to bring information little by little.
Overall it was a very interesting read that I would read 4/5 stars. ✨

Thank you to netgalley for the opportunity to read an ARC of this book.
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An engrossing story and a complex world…

Although I mostly read murder mysteries, I also dabble in a bit of sci-fi and fantasy – which steered me some time ago towards Martha Well’s Murderbot series, which I’ve loved.   So I was excited to have a chance to try Wells’ new stand-alone fantasy, the eponymously-titled Witch King.  And I loved it, although at times I was more than a little confused…   

At the beginning of the story, I shared my confusion with the demon Kaiisteron (aka the Witch King), who wakes up in a dead-ish body, in a tomb in an underwater mausoleum, with no memory or idea of how he got there.  One might think that a demon is an inherently evil creature, but in this world, the term appears to derive more from their terrifying magical capabilities and origin in the “underearth”, rather than any intrinsic lack of morality.   After all, as Kai drily puts it, after draining the life force from some nasty people who have come to enslave him while he is in a weakened condition, “bad people taste better than good ones.”  

Another of those terrifying bits of magic, however, is that Kai is able to body-hop, and once he’s awake, he soon moves to another body, so he can find and release his best friend, the witch, Ziede, who is also trapped in a coffin nearby.  After which they set off to find Ziede’s missing wife, Tahren, who is NOT close by.    Oh, and obviously, Kai and Ziede also want to figure out how – and why - they ended up abducted and almost dead.   And don’t forget the stray orphan Kai picks up along the way, either.   And this is all in chapter 1!

From that wild start, things continue to pick up pace, both in the “main” narrative, and in the “past” narrative, which provides most of the back story.   And I was quickly hooked by figuring out the various characters, multiple timelines, different kinds of magic, and all-too-human politics of this new world.   I found Kai’s and Zeide’s touch of snarkiness with each other to be matched by their deep friendship (“… [a]nd there was only one demon Ziede Daiyahah traveled with”), which was a treat.   And once I learned how to tell the past and present apart 😊, I enjoyed what was going on in both narratives.  Which is rare for me, since usually in a two-timeline book, I develop a strong preference for one or the other, and here I liked them both.    So although I was confused for much longer than Kai was, eventually things fell into place and the book just rocked.

My only beef with Witch King, and it’s minor, is that I’m not usually a fan of the split-timeline approach to story-telling, and this was also the case here.  It seemed a little much at first to be busy trying to figure out this new world, which is quite complex, while also having to keep track of when we were in the current day, and when we were in the past.  In the end, I gave thanks for the “historical” blurbs at the beginnings of the past chapters, which helped me switch gears, but I was still at least partially lost for a good chunk of the first half of the book - which I then went back and reread immediately after finishing and enjoyed much more.    So I think perhaps a bit more world-building up front might have been helpful, so as not to have/want to go back and reread.   

But Witch King is still a great story.  And, although it is being marketed as a stand-alone novel, I’m now hoping it is actually the start of a series – both because I want to know what happens next with Kai and his found-family, and also because, having managed to (mostly) figure it out, I’d like some more time to enjoy this world!   And finally, my thanks to and to NetGalley for the advance review copy.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Publishing for the eARC. This is my honest review.

I rated this 3.5 stars out of 5 and rounded up.

This book showcases the Wells' willingness to experiment with their writing style, taking risks that may not appeal to all readers. From the very beginning, we are thrown into a complex world alongside two friends—a wind spirit harnesser and a body-hopping 'demon'—who have been betrayed by an unknown person and imprisoned. The depth of their existing friendship and shared history is gradually revealed through alternating chapters that shift between past and present. While this approach adds intrigue, it also creates a challenge in forming an immediate connection with these intriguing yet somewhat distant characters.

The story itself is captivating, with an engaging world-building that will particularly resonate with readers who prioritize intricate world-building over character development. I particularly loved the use of amalgamations in the magic system. However, the pacing can be slow at times, and I found the ending to drag slightly once the mystery was solved. Nevertheless, one aspect I truly appreciated is the author's talent for crafting endearing 'cinnamon roll' characters. Despite being labeled a demon, Kai proves to be a gentle and misunderstood soul. That said, this is NOT Murderbot, and the readers who go in expecting that will be disappointed. 

Although I still thoroughly enjoyed the book, I opted to lower my rating due to my personal need for a solid emotional connection with the characters in the stories I read. I understand the intentional decision to withhold certain secrets until the end, heightening the intrigue, but it made it somewhat challenging for me to engage fully.

Overall, I believe this book is definitely worth reading, especially for those who value immersive world-building and are open to exploring unique narrative approaches.
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Witch King is a spectacular book with colourful and detailed worldbuilding, interesting characters and entertaining mix of adventure, mystery and humor. I can't wait to get a physical book and reread it again!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
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The WITCH KING by Martha Wells hints at a promise of political intrigue and mystery as well as action and adventure.  It delivers on the former as Kai begins a journey to discover who trapped him and why.  However, it flounders on the latter whereby the action and adventure feel more like a lazy river happenstance collision.

The chapters bounce back and forth between the present and Kai's past.  This serves as a way to introduce the readers to Kai's history and various characters important to the present plot.  However, the author's style is to slowly unfold the world building and cultures as one reads along.  I typically don't mind this, but I felt the author leaned too much on this technique and thus the story seemed to move along quite slowly.  I also found it difficult to retain who was part of which culture and where because of the tid bits released here and there.  There were few defining moments that helped my memory pin a certain person or culture to a certain place.

Additionally, the longer I read, the more I realized I wasn't terribly invested in the characters or the plot.  I think the above technique contributed to this feeling.  While I don't expect to connect with every character in every story, I do hope that I can feel something.  Instead this story takes place over a relatively short time and it consists of flashbacks to the past coupled with slow-moving, nearly actionless events in the present.  The fact that most present-day events take place on the water felt like a metaphor to my mental treading to stay afloat while reading.

However, it was clear that the author spent time worldbuilding off page.  There are a lot of cultures, styles of dress, and political histories to keep track of.  I feel that if Kai's adventures had taken place at these various locations, the story would have felt more organic.  I found the whole concept of the underearth, a place where demons and witches reside, fascinating.  In fact, I loved the beginning of the book during which the reader encounters how and why demons inhabit humans' bodies.  The magic system, which uses "intentions" and "cantrips," was also interesting, though also under exhibited.

Unfortunately, the WITCH KING by Martha Wells was not a story for me.  I also say this as someone who has never read The Murderbot Diaries and thus had no expectations based on that series.  I sadly was not invested in Kai's retribution nor the presentation of the political intrigue.  However, those who have an appreciation for an unhurried unraveling of the machinations behind Kai's murder will likely have a better reading experience.
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