Cover Image: Witch King

Witch King

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Member Reviews

A new fantasy from Martha Wells, in a new land with new characters! I love both the Raksura and Murderbot Diaries series, and was really excited to see what the Witch King was all about. How was it?

Kai-Enna, yet ANOTHER compelling character created by Wells, is a formidable demon with insane powers and a tightly-knit group of very diverse companions who have been mysteriously separated. Kai-Enna wakes up from captivity, and immediately action, magic, and betrayal abound as he travels across land and sea to figure out what happened to them and who is responsible.

The book jumps back and forth between two transformative times in Kai's life (long ago and right now) in a way that slowly introduces you to Kai-Enna and the other characters, as well as to their world and the political intrigue that they cannot seem to escape.

The world building was a bit sparse, That is good as we do not have to slog through the huge infodump that typically bogs down most first novels in series. BUT, I really wanted to learn more more more about the world and everyone's backstory.

I love Kai-Enna, Zaide and Tenes, and loved learning more about everyone and everything as the story unfolded. Wells consistently creates imperfectly perfect characters that you can't help but adore. Hopefully, this is a series, but it might be a standalone, who knows?

Overall, 5 stars! I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am eagerly awaiting word of more books to come in this series.

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I really wanted to love this but I found the worldbuilding and plot confusing. It just never captured me.

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My thanks to NetGalley and Tor for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I've followed Martha Wells for years and was excited to read her latest work.

This is the story of the demon Kai and his closest friends and comrades in arms, alternating between a mystery attack in the present and in the past Kai's rise to power fighting against a brutal genocide. In the present, Kai awakens from an unknown prison as a sorcerer attempts to enslave him. Kai spends the rest of the book rescuing his friends and figuring out who betrayed them and why. In the alternating chapters, we see how Kai first comes to the mortal world, survives the massacre of his people, is captured and tortured (not-graphic) by the enemy, and is drawn into an alliance of nations to fight back led by a charismatic man who has some romancey-vibes that are kept platonic enough to render this story asexual (or at least ace-friendly).

As with every story ever written by Martha Wells, its greatest strength lies in making you fall in love with the characters and rooting for them. As for originality, Ms. Wells is starting to fall into the trap of repeating her characters. Kai is essentially Moon from the Tales of the Raksura series; he's an all around like-able, slightly sarcastic, good guy who just wants to live his life surrounded by his loved ones, and can't conceive of being anything but a gentleman. The resemblance was so complete I kept expecting Kai to have wings. This story was very plot-driven, and would have been even better if it had more moments of taking a break from the action to just let the characters have some more page time just being with each other.

This novel did have a very big problem with pacing. The first 40% of the book was pure torture to read. It was incredibly dry, slow, and filled with emotional angst that didn't work if you didn't already know the characters' backstories and care about them. The next 20% of the story started to get a little better, and the last 40% was a complete page turner I couldn't put down.

Part of the problem was the alternating time lines - in theory this works, but the present timeline should be more interesting than the past, and that was far from true here. In the past, Kai and friends go through the epic ups and downs of war, the bonding that comes from shared captivity, and the hope of having a fighting chance. The present tense was a slow who-dun-it that mostly involved a lot of boat travel occasionally broken up by pursuit. Each chapter was good about ending on a cliffhanger to make you keep reading, but then it switched to the other storyline, killing the momentum. It's hard to read a 500+ page book in one sitting, so when picking it up again, it was hard to remember which timeline I was reading.

The beginning few chapters felt much more unpolished than the rest of the book. There were some minor mistakes the ground my nerves (the first boat was identified as a large galley with three masts, but galleys are small boats with one mast. Galleons have three.) There were a few small type-os as well in the first few chapters.

One more thing that disappointed me with this novel was a missed opportunity to go beyond some stereotypes that were missed. Kai and his species identify as demons, but they're not demons in the traditional Christian mythology sense, more like guardian spirits than bloodthirsty monsters. I think plenty of other cultures have closer matches for these entities than Abrahamic religions, but demons are the most recognizable, and therefore easiest to sell, term.

Overall, I hope the final release of this book reworks the beginning a bit so it's not so difficult to get into, because it really is worth the wait.

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To rate 5 stars from me a story has to be mind and/or life altering. This was really really good. So much goodness!

Things I loved: Kai, Zaide, Bashasa, the stakes, the world building, most of the secondary characters. The young uncertain Kai versus the badass world weary Kai.

Things I didn't love, but admired - the story's structure. It's told weaving back and forth across two (three? -- if you count Kai's "childhood" before the Hierarchy arrived) time periods. Each was so damned interesting I didn't want to go leave the time I was in to go back to the other one - which I hadn't wanted to leave before! The staggered storytelling reveals different information that informs the upcoming sections, so I get that it is necessary, but... I just inhaled this book. I think I would have read faster if I hadn't been so invested that I was jarred most every time the changes came and had to take a mental step back!

I am now dying for the next book in the series. How did the war against the Hierarchy unfold? How did they win their freedom? Thank Gods they did! Spoiler, though not really (view spoiler)

Ms. Wells, may I say, that while I wish you could write your epics faster, you keep doing what works for you. I will gratefully and happily enjoy the results! Thank you!

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"The Witch King" is an epic fantasy novel with magic, underworld denizens, witches, conquerors to be vanquished, traitors to be rooted out, resistance to be led, desperate battles against impossible odds, friendship 4-EVER, and the work of building a new world when the old has been swept from under everyone..

I pine for the next one already.

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