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Witch King

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I loooooooove the Murderbot books so even though fantasy isn’t my usual genre, I was excited to try a new book from Martha Wells. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me but that’s probably more a case of wrong reader than anything about the book - I’m just not a fantasy reader. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free ebook to review.

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Witch King

Kai wakes up in the middle of an attempt on his life. While his attackers underestimate the difficulty of killing a demon, just escaping isn’t enough. With political turmoil at the re-signing of the treaty that made their world, someone wanted Kai out of the picture and the answer may lie in events that occurred a lifetime ago.

Young Kai lost everything when the Hierophants destroyed his home and claimed the land for themselves. His family dead, his connection to the demon world severed, and imprisoned, Kai has almost lost hope when a hostage prince offers him the chance to do the unthinkable- bring the Hierophants down.

Complex and well-thought-out epic fantasy that sometimes bites off more than it can chew, but manages to remain worthwhile.

The jumping between the two plot lines wasn’t always the most balanced and I think this contributed to how long this took me to read. Often I’d be way more invested in either the present or the past and it made getting through the other section frustrating.

I liked a lot of the characters, especially how some of the relationship development that happened between the two timelines is shaded in through context clues and emotion- great showing not telling that made the characters feel real. I liked Dahin for being a belligerent nerd and Sanja for being a sweet, tough, audience surrogate (she’s who needs stuff explained to her, so I’m grateful for that, too). Kai is awesome and well realized.

I wish the political stuff key to the present plot line was explained a little more in depth a little earlier on- by the time I really understood it, I felt like I’d missed a lot, but I liked the book enough to reread it and I think I’ll enjoy the beginning more with this added perspective.

Basically- I liked it. A bit hard to get into but loved the world building, the complexity of the magic and politics, the characters- so it’s worth pushing through. However, I could see this not being the book for someone who doesn’t enjoy dense fantasy. Not something I’d recommend to everyone, but something I would recommend particularly strongly to others.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Witch King would be a fascinating second book in a series, but the glacial pacing and dense flashbacks make it an inaccessible introduction to a new series. The unique beginning really drew me into the story. Kai is the exact kind of chaotic, overpowered character that I love. It is an intriguing approach to set a book after a giant revolution—something that would typically be the central plot of a fantasy book. However, in order to catch the reader up on these events, the book is weighed down by flashbacks and long scenes where the characters just talk about the past. This form of world-building is incredibly intricate and intriguing but far too dense to be an enjoyable reading experience.

I can motivate myself through dense world-building if I have characters to latch on to. Unfortunately, Kai was the only character that really interested me. And even then, the fact that he was insanely overpowered took all of the tension out of the plot. I finished the book feeling absolutely nothing which is particularly frustrating given the complexity of the story. I am really tempted to try this again in a few months after the disappointment has faded because I desperately wanted to love it.

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I know Martha Wells from her masterful Murderbot series, and I had never read her fantasy works. With "Witch King", she's back in the fantasy realm and delivers a well written, interesting novel, though it feels a little pedestrian compared to the storytelling she's shown she's capable of in other works. I enjoyed the characters and the found family aspects of the story, but I found myself forgetting key points while reading it. It held my interest, but just barely. Still, it's a fun fantasy story and there's humor throughout, it's a satisfying read.

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- rating: 3.5 stars
thank you tor publishing and netgalley for the arc!

witch king is a dark fantasy that follows kai, the demon witch king, as he attempts to escape an underwater tomb where his spirit was imprisoned after his mortal body was murdered. when he wakes, kai and his witch friend ziede must figure out who betrayed them…

kai is such an interesting protagonist, and his character was the highlight for me. following a body-jumping, life-sucking demon and reading from his perspective was definitely a unique experience.

i love found family and i liked the idea of this one, with them being a group of unlikely rebels, but unfortunately didn’t think enough time was spent on each of the individual characters. there was such potential but i thought they all could’ve been developed more instead of adding even more side characters. i found myself struggling to connect to them and therefore didn’t feel i experienced the book as i was meant to. i wish we got to know them better.

the first few chapters were definitely hooking, and i really enjoyed the first part. my expectations were built so much at the beginning that i sadly felt let down as i got further in. i became less invested in (and more confused about) what was happening as the book went on, largely due to my not connecting to the characters.

it was written well though and that was something i noticed throughout the book and definitely acknowledge as one of the book's strong points. I'm very curious about martha wells's other works since this was my first, unlike many others as murderbot diaries fans!

overall, while i can appreciate the good elements (including the split timelines of before the assassination and after, the writing, and kai), i don’t think it was the book for me.
saying that, there was still a lot of good in it and i’d still recommend it to others!

reviewed on 9th august 2023.

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This was very different from the past Martha Wells, which can be hard - heading in expecting one thing from an author and getting something entirely different. This would be great for fans of NK Jemisin, deep fantasy dive into a complex world with characters rich in history.

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Atmospheric, sweeping fantasy with intricate world building and complicated, messy characters that carry you through the story kicking and screaming.

It feels like you get dropped right into the world and story, without knowing much. But then everything just comes so naturally from there.

I love stories about demons, Death (personified), reapers, or other creatures from the after life/other world, so as a massive Murderbot fan, I couldn't wait to see what Martha Wells would do with a story like this one and I was NOT disappointed!

Would HIGHLY recommend to any high fantasy fans!

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I enjoyed this book and I could not put it down. I really enjoyed the characters and the writing was really well done. It made you want to keep reading.

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3.5 stars for me! I enjoyed the world building in this book but found the plot slow and almost tedious? This was my first book I read by Martha Wells and I had high expectations as I've heard wonderful things about her fantasy stories.

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I wanted to like this! I was very confused for 1/3 of the book and did not end up finishing it. I kept trying to understand what was going on but I think it just wasn't for me.

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Martha Wells does not hold your hand in "Witch King".

You're thrown straight into the madness and expected to keep on swimming. It's refreshing for some, not for others. I loved it. Throw me into the deep end, Martha, and I'll love you for it.

Be warned, though, Witch King is a challenging book. Like being dropped into an open-world game with no clothes, sword, or shield, the action starts immediately with characters, places, powers, and species all being introduced in a whirlwind. This doesn't happen just once, but once in both timelines. And the pace never lets up — never throws any bones — just expects the reader to retain info and keep up. It makes the book a dynamic and brisk read, but one that demands your full attention. Staying alert is essential.

Kai is a life-sucking, body-snatching demon. He might be close to impossible to kill, and often endures until he is the last being standing. However, when it comes to those he loves he will do absolutely anything for them. Even if that means going to essentially the ends of the earth and battling hoards of opponents to reach them. That’s what the quest is here. Kai is not seeking gold or glory or even vengeance; he just wants to find the missing members of the family he built for himself and reunite them.

There is very little inner monologue from any of the characters, including Kai. He still felt like a mystery throughout the entire novel, even though the entire story was told from his perspective. Everything that was learned about his character, about his inner conflict and his love for his friends and to protect them against all odds, I felt as if I learned from outside observation. When people talk about how an author should “show not tell” in their work, this could serve as an excellent example of an author doing exactly that, with great aplomb.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy. I am not entirely certain if this is a stand-alone or the first book in a new series, but the ending, although not a cliff hanger, leaves the way open for more.

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Kai is a powerful demon who can live inside the bodies of dead mortals. Unfortunately for Kai, the last mortal body he possessed was murdered and he was stuck in an intricate water trap. When Kai wakes, a mage is trying to use Kai's magic. Kai is left to piece together the last moments before his capture. The story is told in the past and the present, leaving readers to solve the mystery along with Kai.

Something about the pacing of Witch King didn't work for me. In theory, jumping back and forth should be exciting. In this case, the story felt disjointed and incomplete. It's also sometimes hard to tell which timeline you're reading. I think other readers will love how challenging the book is, but I picked it up at the wrong time.

The world-building was so-so and the characters had their funny moments, but all in all, Witch King was not for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tordotcom for providing an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Witch King dives straight into a World of witches, immortals, war, politics and demons. I was really captivated by the opening stages of the book and immediately take with Kaii as a character with such humanity, though a demon.

The story is told with a past/present story line and though this is not something I usually enjoy, I did think it was done well and was almost alternate chapters. Of course when the present was getting tense I really wanted to continue with that part of the story and skip the past.

I really enjoyed the snippets we got of the messenger creatures and the relationships of Kaii. I really felt like this was the beginning of a long story, much like the feelings you get when you read The Wheel of time.. everyone is on a journey but not a huge amount is happening. Being a standalone I think the ending felt anti-climatic, though if part of a series it would have definitely paid off more. I did enjoy being in this World, I just felt a bit flat at the end. I would definitely love to explore of this setting with the characters.

Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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This one was so reminiscent of childhood for me. It reminded me of the games I loved to play.

It was a little slow to get into, but I think I'm a Martha Wells fan now! This is my first by them. But to be clear the story wasn't slow. It dropped you right in which I love, but I just wasn't sure if the story was for me. I pushed through though!

It takes a true artist to write unlikable characters and still have a good book. I'm so happy to have read this and can't wait to continue with their works!

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Kai wakes up in a watery tomb when an upstart poseur magician tries to take his magic. He has no idea how he got there, but he plans to find out. And he's pretty mad when he wakes up. That’s just the beginning as his quest to find answers leads him to forming unlikely alliances to fight a tyrannous kingdom who has taken control over everything that Kai once knew.

Witch King feels epic, yet very personal as it’s through the eyes of an unique viewpoint, a demon who has the power to inhabit the bodies of humans. Demons are not like the Christian concept in this novel. Instead, they are beings who live in the Underearth but are able to inhabit the bodies of mortal, although their eyes are fully black, and they possess unique abilities based on their nature.
So I think they are a very distinct sort of demon. Keep in mind, I am sure that more well read people in this genre may have read more stories with this kind of demon than me. Kai has magic abilities, and gains more when he takes over the body of an enemy.

I really did enjoy this book. But I won’t be dishonest. It was a bit confusing for me. The types of names and the places were hard to keep straight. It didn’t help that I would pick this up and put it down multiple times, as life has not allowed me to have much reading time (and I have so much going on, that it’s harder to focus on a book). It would take me a few minutes to get reoriented when I picked it up again, but I finally decided I didn’t need to pass an exam on what I was reading. Instead I just decided to embrace the experience. Once I did that, it became a lot lower stakes to read it as I could. I was just along for the ride.

I loved that the cultures are modeled after non-European civilizations and there is plenty of diversity (lots of shades of brown and evidence of different ethnicities), along with non-binary and LGBTQ representation.

I really liked Kai. He’s got a very wry sense of humor that I enjoyed. He’s also a complete badass. But he’s not the type whose a bragger about it. He’s just going to do the thing, and hopefully you are not in his way or the person who’s his opponent. I liked the secondary characters. I did get a little bit confused at first on who was whom, but eventually, I got into a rhythm where I was able to read their names and connect the characters to what part they played in the story. I liked how there are different kinds of magical abilities that seem to complement each other. Kai’s ability is very cool and kind of scary, and it gets magnified through different experiences through the book.

I feel like the story starts one way and ends up in an entirely different place, but there is some closure about the initial plot point. The open ending makes me wonder if this would be a series. If it is, I’ll be reading it.

This is not an easy read, in my opinion. It’s going to take some thinking through and focus to read, but it think it’s worth it. I really appreciate Martha Wells’ writing, and I definitely want to continue reading her backlist. I love her sense of humor but also the complexity of her characters.

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As a fan of the Murderbot series, I was really looking forward to a new fantasy by Martha Wells. And while I really liked this book overall, it is different than Murderbot. The world building is expansive, detailed and really really intense compared to the first Murderbot book. This isn't a bad thing at all; everything was beautifully intertwined and interesting but it was still A Lot. One thing that definitely is similar to Murderbot is the attitude and snarkiness of the main characters. They all felt like real people with real gripes, habits, and personalit -- rather than fantasy stereotypes and cardboard cutouts. The plot is a fun combination of a journey + political plotting and turnarounds, which I found engaging and refreshing, especially with the flashback chapters adding to the complexity. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a rich world fantasy with fun characters that are easy to love.

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Witch King is an adult fantasy novel following Kai who after being murdered and trapped finds a lesser mage trying to gain control of his powers. Kai, along with his friend Ziede, must figure out why they were imprisoned though Kai might not like the answers.
The world created here is very different from other fantasies with a very unique magic system. The story goes back and forth between the present focusing on the mystery of what happened to Kai and his past and how he became know as the Witch King. Martha Wells does this so well that the reader learns what is going on in the present at the same time as the characters. The flash backs give enough information on the world and the past events to be informative while also leaving a mystery.
This is one of those books that is good on a first read but will be even better on a reread when you understand what is going on Witch King is currently a stand alone but is left open enough to have sequels in the future if the author wanted to.

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Waking up and discovering someone made a strong effort to make sure your dead and stay that way is not a propitious day in a demon’s life.

I was all anticipation when I got my hands on this fantasy because I love Martha Well’s The Murderbot Diaries sci-fi series so I was willing to try her work in any genre. I already enjoy fantasy, but I don’t read it as often so it took me a bit to get settled into Witch King.

I liked how the reader starts off as clueless as the main character, Kai, about what is going on. But, then slowly the reader starts to get a picture as there are flashbacks to the past, explanations and meetings in the present as Kai the demon and his witch friend, Ziede, along with a few waifs they pick up along the way set out on a grand journey adventure to discover the truth behind the recent events and try to stay uncaptured and alive from the formidable groups ranged against them.

The setting is an earth-like place with an under-earth and lots of magical peoples and different races. Learning about this world is what keeps the reader digesting a lot of detail along the way. In fact, as much as I love audio editions, I’m glad I started this one in print first because I would have been thoroughly confused when it comes to the intricate details the reader needs to pick up to understand the nuances behind the broader plot. As it is, I’m pretty sure I missed some detail that would enhance my understanding so I’m already planning a re-read.

The characters beginning with Kai at the center of it all were fabulous. Kai was instantly likeable and I was engaged with him in all his colorful history from the beginning. I don’t usually enjoy split time plot threads equally, but I did in this case. I was happy to devour more details about Kai’s life. Martha Wells made me connect deeply with Kai and the others and really care about them and their circumstances.

There was a fabulous blend of worldbuilding, character development, and action which included some great twisting political intrigue. The descriptions of this world they live in and through the lens of the past as ways of life, races, and governments toppled and rebuilt over the centuries was full and rich.

The story wraps up in a good and satisfying place, but left room for more because the broad stage of things in both the past and the present time threads still have more play in them. Definitely recommend to other fantasy lovers.

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Unfortunately Witch King was a DNF for me at 32%. I liked the premise of it but I found it difficult to follow. I did try to push on in hope that I would gain a better understanding given high fantasy can sometimes be a little confusing at the beginning but I couldn’t grasp it and didn’t connect with the characters. I think the writing style maybe just wasn’t for me. I don’t believe I should give it a rating because I put it down to my personal view and not that of the book itself.

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He guessed his demeanor was not engendering confidence.

In a world of demons, hierarchs and ferrying whales, our hero is Kai - a demon prince of the underearth who has earned the title Witch King. The novel begins with Kai's escape from an imprisoning trap. The full stakes and situation become apparent as we bounce between his history and present day. In some ways, it reminds me of Martha Wells' earlier fantasy The Death of the Necromancer, where you have to read through much of the book to get a full picture of what's under the surface.

There's a lot here to like. Wells' descriptions can almost make you smell the tang of salt air on a coastline. And she continues to write extremely human characters, whether they are human or otherwise! Finally, while I wouldn't call this a romance by any stretch of the imagination, love drives our character and the plot in believable ways.

You, like me, might struggle with Kai's pain magic, which is triggered by intense pain and too often initiated by Kai for my taste. Self harm is cemented into the story in that way, but not in a way that I found gratuitous.

Ultimately, if you're a fantasy fan, consider this one a safe bet. Witch King will sweep you up in its current. 4/5

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