Member Reviews

I've been meaning to check out Martha Wells for years so when I heard she was coming out with a new fantasy novel, I thought it might be a good place to start.

Witch King is the kind of novel that expects the reader to do a lot of reading between the lines, making inferences about what's happening between the bits that we get to see. It tells some of the story of the eponymous Witch King, Kaiisteron, as he unravels a conspiracy against him in the book's present. Alternating with the present storyline are chapters from Kai's past which reveal details about both him and the world around him.

The characters are interesting, particularly our point-of-view character, Kai. But to reveal nearly anything about him would be a spoiler. The setting is well-drawn and I was left wanting to know a great deal more about it.

The plot unfolds in languid impressionistic brushstrokes that leaves as many questions as answers by the end. Recommended for fans of slow-moving introspective high fantasy in the vein of The Goblin Emperor and Priory of the Orange tree.

I will definitely be buying and rereading Witch King and I hope the author plans to write more in this world.

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CHARACTERS
🔲 mary-sue party
🔲 mostly 2D
🔲 great main cast, forgettable side characters
✅ well-written
🔲 complex and fascinating
🔲 hard to believe they are fictional

PLOT
🔲 you've already heard this exact story a thousand times
🔲 nothing memorable
✅ gripping
🔲 exceptional
🔲 mind=blown

WORLDBUILDING
🔲 takes place in our world
🔲 incoherent
🔲 OK
🔲 nicely detailed
✅ meticulous
🔲 even the last tree in the forest has its own story

ATMOSPHERE
🔲 nonexistent
🔲 fine
🔲 immersive
✅ you forget you are reading a book

PACING
🔲 dragging
✅ inconsistent
🔲 picks up with time
🔲 page-turner
🔲 impossible to put down

It wasn't bad, but I expected more :\

If you are around for a while you might know that I adore the Murderbot series by Martha Wells, so naturally I was super excited when her new fantasy book release got announced. Now, let's start with the obvious: this book was very different from Murderbot. It's a full-length novel, it's epic fantasy, and it follows multiple timelines. What stayed the same though, was the heart-warming found family trope - if you loved that in Murderbot, you will probably love it even more here.

The biggest surprise for me was the amazing world-building. Considering that this is a stand-alone, there were so many details about the different countries and their people, the cultures, the magic, and the history of the world. I also loved how unique it all felt instead of being another classic Western-inspired fantasy. Also also it was so delightfully queer!

The characters and the plot were alright in my opinion, they didn't quite blow my mind away but there was nothing wrong with them either.

The reason this book is not a five-star read for me is the pacing. Maybe the author is just not used to writing longer formats anymore, but this book felt so excruciatingly slow. While I was always enjoying what I was reading, I never felt like picking it up again. I liked the plots of both the present time and the flashback, but maybe it was because of the order of chapters, the momentum of the plot could never build up. It might be a me problem, but I definitely struggled with finishing the book because of this.

Overall, I think this was an enjoyable read, but it won't be a new favourite for me sadly. Still looking forward to picking up whatever the author comes out next with though! 😊

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Martha Wells is a Professional Writer. And I don’t mean this to be damning with faint praise. Indeed, as a reviewer, this is one of the highest bits of praise I can offer. That means that Martha Wells delivers exactly what she promises. Witch King says “come with me, on an epic adventure across the seas and lands of a fantastic world. I will sweep you off your feet, make you forget your cares awhile, and take your breath away with images of impossible cities and alien landscapes.” And it delivers. When reading Witch King I was not lying on my couch ignoring piles of laundry yet to fold. I wasn’t stealing half an hour on my bus commute to work. I was soaring over ruined cities, fighting alongside legendary warriors as they clashed for the survival of their countries, and descending into the depths of inhuman oceans. Martha Wells knows how to deliver on the fundamental pact between author and reader--give me your attention, your time, and your imagination, and I will give you something extraordinary.

Witch King is told in two braided timelines looping around eachother as they tell Kai’s (a demon who is trapped in a mortal body, and betrayed by a comrade) rise and fall, and then what comes next. What I love is how rich and how inhabited the world Martha Wells has constructed in this book is--one of the characters is a historian, and his research feels real and asks probing questions that I hope will be answered in future books set in this same world. I also hope that someone will throw stupid amounts of money at an adaptation of this only for the amazing set piece scuba adventure that happens at about 2/3 of the way through this book.

If you are looking for a larger than life, epic fantasy quest, with world building to die for and battle scenes to take your breath away--you could do worse than picking Witch King as your next read. I especially recommend this book for fans of Brandon Sanderson, Tash Suri, or C.L. Clark.
I was provided with an Advance Copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Again, we are enthralled by the genius of Martha Wells in this fast paced, political intrigue mixed with fantasy! Deliciously dark, you will root for demons and cry over betrayal. I look forward to reading more in this series.

My only critique is that I felt emotionally exhausted by the amount of action in both timelines. I had to stop and take breaks because of how much was happening.

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As a huge fan of the Murderbot Diaries, I had high expectation for Witch King. Unfortunately, it just wasn't for me. I know it will appeal to others which is why I rate it a 3 star-- definitely pick this up if you're an epic fantasy fan that loves piecing together all the factions and the characters amidst the two timeline POVs. I simply didn't have the brain space to appreciate it as much as I wish I could have. A huge thank you to Tor and Netgalley for a copy of this eArc!

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4.75 I absolutely love Kai and Zeide. I kept thinking of Mal and Zoe from Firefly — though I think Kai is a gentler soul than Mal.

The book hooked me right away with Kai disembodied trying to piece together how he got there. I thought it was such an intriguing opening scene.

I felt like the book really found its footing around the 50% mark. Before that point, I’ll admit I skimmed past a fair amount of world building that ultimately didn’t feel entirely necessary - particularly all the descriptions of what people were wearing.

But my love for the characters was enough to keep me reading and I would definitely read more about them if there was ever a sequel.

Just don’t go into Witch King expecting Murderbot. I love them both, but they’re very different.

Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy!

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2.5 / 5

Witch King by Martha Wells was on my radar as soon as it was announced: the intriguing synopsis, the cover, and the author's popularity all made me really want to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to what I'd hoped it would.

In Witch King, we follow Kai, a very powerful demon prince whose magic is pretty badass. He has the ability to possess mortals, their bodies remaining in a preserved state that can heal almost instantly. He also can drain the life out of anything with just a touch, feeding his power reserves even further. Kai wakes up in a tomb with no recollection of how he got there - his consciousness returning to him only because a group of magic wielders have arrived and woken him up. Kai soon realizes that this group is there to try and transfer his soul into a small, wounded girl, making him easy for them to wield in her form. Kai, of course, makes quick work of these beings; but the question still remains... why was he entombed, and by who?

To begin with the good: Martha Wells absolutely knows what she's doing when it comes to crafting an interesting magic system and a lovable group of characters. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of these characters are queer in some form - perhaps this is a regular thing in Wells' writing, but she's new to me so I appreciated it a lot. She is a great writer and this book really shined in the action moments where Kai wielded his magic.

However, to be honest: I never really knew what was going on this entire book. It felt like a sequel; so many political factions, places, people, and motivations are barely explained. While I can enjoy this style of fantasy writing, and have loved it many books previous, it was simply too confusing in this book for me to ever grasp the plot or feel invested in the rising political suspense. Things would be uncovered that I thought should've been a big "woah!" moment but they didn't really land for me. It was a struggle not to DNF.

This is my first Martha Wells book, and while this wasn't a big win for me, I don't think it'll be the last.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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DNF @ 15%

No one is more disappointed about this rating than I am, but this did not work for me.

We are thrown right into a confusing situation and offered very little context re: the world, politics, background or character dynamics. However, we do get an overabundance of description on tiny details - such as the clothing worn by various characters. As a result, I found myself feeling overly confused and frustrated and decided I needed to DNF. That said, I may give this one another shot at a later time because I really am disappointed, but I need to step away for the time being. Additionally, I am still ecstatic to read Murderbot, as I've heard the writing is quite different.

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Thanks to Tor/Netgalley for the review copy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book - the first of Wells’ fantasy novels that I’ve read (I loved murderbot diaries).

When it opened with a cast list, I was a bit concerned that it was going to be confusing, but I didn’t find it that way at all, and never referred back to the list. The story flicks between the past & the present to tell the story of Kai and his found family - how they met and how they started their journey to become who they are today (did I mention he’s a demon known as the Witch King?).

I loved the slow world building and drip feed of understanding of the magic systems. We have enough newbie characters (and therefore expository dialogue) to give us enough information as we go along, but it’s all quite complex so I was glad to just go with it, rather than be overwhelmed too early. The world is large and rich, and I loved the subtle flips from western culture that Wells has written into some of the nations (eg south is considered up/the top of the world, and at one point people are embarrassed when a man takes off his skirt in public).

The plot is well-paced, and switching between timelines is done well. I was never bored, but the character moments didn’t seem rushed. There were a few moments where problems are resolved perhaps a bit conveniently, but nothing felt entirely unearned. I think I was a little confused about the timelines at first, mostly how long between past & present, as a character referred to Kai as if he were a myth/story. But, if you think about it, particularly without mass communication, it wouldn’t take much time or distance for even a world-changing story to take on a mythic feel.

And I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters. They’re layered and interesting, as are their relationships. There’s politicking and competing ideologies, but each character and their motivations make sense. I loved our protagonists and even some of their shifty companions. We’re in Kai’s head, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable journey.

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I haven't read Murderbot. Let's get this out of the way. I have no point of comparison with other books by the author, since it is the first one I read. But if Murderbot is as good as it's famous and half as fantastic as this one, I plan to read it as soon as possible.

I think my biggest complain with this story was how weirdly paced it was throughout. I don't usually enjoy stories that alternate timelines, but it's more a matter of personal preference because I often read several books at once and find it very difficult to keep up. However, in other books where we have those same jumps between past and present it had not been a problem, as long as it was handled well. In this book, I did find it unnecessarily confusing, to the point that I couldn't quite remember which was the past and which was the present.

That took a lot of momentum out of the book, in my opinion. Because the plot is extremely addictive. And with a much more dynamic pace the book would have been much better.

For me the most remarkable thing was the cast of characters. Absolutely all of them were memorable and the author quickly made me feel comfortable with them. I adored Kai with all my heart.

I generally don't like landing on a story, with zero context, the kind where I have to piece together information as the author presents it. But here I found it wonderful and very well executed.

Crossing my fingers that this becomes a trilogy or saga, so I can learn more about the characters and the world.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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After hearing nothing but praises for the author, I tried to like this book, but it did not do it for me.

Martha Wells spins a unique tale, and while I did love how pieces of the story were revealed through flashbacks, I found everything else rather unprofound. There were very few moments that I understood what was happening, and there were so many names mentioned that it ate at any sliver of comprehension I had left. Often times, characters were brought up that I thought would have more relevance to the story, but then were hardly mentioned again.

Sadly, the story did not pick up until the final quarter of the book, and by then, I was so frustrated, that I had a hard time enjoying what was happening. I feel the need to ask myself if the author wrote this book to tell a story, or simply to worldbuild because that's what the majority of this felt like.

I think the ending would be great if the rest of the book were better, but alas...

Thank you to Tor Publishing Group & NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I'm so sad, but I've had to DNF this one at 25%. I loved the characters, they are so incredibly well developed and just brilliant to read, but the world building was just too much. I felt like there were too many people and places to try and remember and just found it overly confusing in parts.

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I love Martha Wells' Murderbot series, and so I was really excited to see "Witch King" on NetGalley for review, as I've been curious about her fantasy writing! Overall, I ended up enjoying the story and characters, but admittedly, it took me a while to get into this book. This is a fantasy novel that tosses you right into the action without a lot of context or pre-emptive world-building to help position the reader. I often appreciate this approach, but given the complexity of this world and the volume of characters (especially across two different timelines), I actually found it disorienting and struggled to keep the various characters/storylines straight until about 100 pages in. Having said that, though, I ended up enjoying these characters. I'm curious if this is the opening of a series (or set of books set in this same universe?). There are parts of this world that I really appreciated, including the representation of gender fluidity - I loved how physical gendered appearances did not have to correspond to an individual's gender identity (Kai!!!). Now that I'm familiar with the characters and world, I would definitely read another installment in this universe (if one was written). This is a solid fantasy novel. Although I had a rough start getting settled into the world and characters, in the end, I enjoyed it.

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I didn’t know this book was more of an epic fantasy when I requested this, but when I saw the index of people at the beginning, I knew it was. I am not a fan of epic fantasy since I read too fast and have a hard time keeping up with all the characters, but I thought I’d go ahead and read this anyway. This was actually very well-written with interesting characters even if it’s a bit long. I loved the relationship between Kai and Ziede; they aren’t romantically involved, just more like great friends. Considering there were multiple things I’m not fond of in this book, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I think fans of epic fantasy will definitely find this a great book. Recommend. I was provided a complimentary copy which I voluntarily reviewed.

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2.5 stars, Metaphorosis Reviews

Summary
Powerful demon Kaiisteron and his companion witch, imprisoned in a tomb under the sea, are awakened by a mage with more ambition than caution. Once free, they find a close companion is missing, and their search for her whirls them into a complex political web with its roots in the past.

Review
I’m a big fan of Tamara Siler (Tambo) Jones’ original Threads of Malice books, in part because they take place after an epic war between good and evil. Martha Wells tries to go that one better here, in a dual-threaded story both before and after a vital revolution against evil. Unfortunately, Wells does a frankly poor job of laying out all the complex politics; even at the end of the story, I had very little notion of who and what many of the key players were, and therefore no clear sense of the characters’ motivations. A key theme, for example, is a renewal that involves both Imperial Blessed and Rising Earth. I still have no real idea of what any of those three things is or why it was meant to matter.

It looks as if the truth is that Wells is just an uneven writer. She clearly knows how to write engaging characters – her Murderbot books are about almost nothing but engagement, and they’re generally speaking very strong. Here, however, she pulls back sharply from the characters, and the result is cold and distant. I understood the emotions of Kai, the protagonist, but I didn’t really feel any of them. Much is left to us to infer (e.g., Kai’s relationship with key figure Bashasa), and while I did so, it didn’t mean much to me.

Wells also knows how to build intriguing worlds (as in her Raksura books), and does so again here, but not in any really coordinated manner. There are several different kinds of magic, and their nature and limitations are never really clear. We learn at the very start of the book about ‘pearls’ that are placed (literally) in people’s hearts, and that Kai has one. But we never learn what they do, how they work, or where Kai’s came from. It’s intriguing background, but most of it is never resolved, and only sometimes essential to the plot.

I’ve liked some of Wells’ books quite a lot, and some much less. Unfortunately, Witch King falls in this latter category. It’s an interesting sketch of a novel that could have been, but that never really developed.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

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This book takes place in an interesting world and flips back and forth between the past and present. After finishing it, all I can think about it is, complex chaos. There is a lot happening and a lot of characters, some trying to save the world while trying to survive. It has demons and witches and some very interesting magic systems. The humor that occurs at times will make you laugh as this group of people journey to find out what happened.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Tor for providing me with this ARC.

DNF at 43%

Over the years, I’ve seen countless rave reviews and hype about author Martha Wells’s Murderbot series, but have never gotten around to reading any of them. I tend to prefer fantasy to science fiction myself, so when I read that Martha Wells was releasing a new fantasy novel, Witch King, I was super excited and immediately requested an ARC. Unfortunately, though I really wanted to love Witch King, I really struggled with the novel and barely made it 43 percent of the way through it.

Witch King opens with a list of characters, which should have been my first red flag that this novel wouldn't be for me. This type of list seems to be the new trend in fantasy novels with big casts and while it is a useful tool, I don’t like when this list prefaces the novel, itself, personally, especially when it's a brand new book and not a continuation of a series. When I’m reading this list before even starting the book, all of the characters' names, their relationships, jobs, and whatever else is included in the list, mean absolutely nothing to me. All this type of list serves to do is overwhelm me before I even start the novel. And I am certainly not able to memorize this list of characters either, so I presume that I am supposed to constantly reference this list as I’m reading.

This constant referencing is something I really don’t enjoy doing when I’m reading for pleasure or when I’m on my Kindle. I am sadly just not good at navigating back and forth on the device, but I imagine it’s just fine for other people. Frankly, I'm more comfortable getting to know characters through actually reading the novel itself and the list at the beginning just feels like an excuse for authors to not have to introduce their characters to the readers, which is exactly what happens in Witch King. To me, this list is not an equivalent exchange for the initial introduction to characters and it’s a bit off-putting to witness characters appearing for the first time on the page referenced as if they and their past deeds are already known to me. Perhaps other readers will like this presentation style of Witch King more, which throws you right into the story with little to no preamble or set up, but it’s unfortunately, not to my taste.

I’ve found in my reading of fantasy novels that there are generally two types of fantasy novels: one that explains every last detail of world building and one that throws you into the middle of the world and expects you to figure out everything about it from mere context alone. Witch King is definitely the latter. Though normally I like when authors assume I am smart enough to figure out the details of their world, I literally could not manage to do this in Witch King, which throws terms like “expositor,” “heart pearls,” “underearth,” “hierarch,” and more at the reader with little to no explanation. The world-building is complex and it’s not something I was able to put together on my own through the context clues, even though I made quite the effort to concentrate on all of the details.

To make matters even more challenging, Witch King alternates between chapters in the present and then chapters taking place in the past for the entirety of the novel. So, not only was I already struggling to understand who the characters were and their relationships with each other, and what was happening in the present, but I now also had to decipher what had happened in the past and how exactly these past events correlated to what was currently in the present. I guess I didn’t manage to read far enough to ever figure out the latter.

Though this jumping from time periods or perspectives or host bodies didn’t bother me so much in other novels with nontraditional storytelling and body swapping, like A Chorus of Dragons, it was a huge problem for me in Witch King. At about 30% of the way through the novel, I finally got the concept I’d been struggling to get a full picture of through what breadcrumbs had been dropped on the subject— the “underearth” and how demons use it—explained to me in one of the chapters taking place in the past. It felt like this explanation came far too late for me to fully understand the prior events of the novel and I did not want to go back and try to make sense of them, again.

Sadly, this lack of explanation for both the characters and the world-building made it very hard for me to feel connected to anything in Witch King at large. I really liked the concepts of world-building, which seemed wildly original, and the general ideas of the characters, but I never felt like I fully grasped them, and wasn’t able to care for them as a result. This unique narrative framework made for a very frustrating reading experience for me personally. Truly, I wanted to comprehend everything going on, but I couldn’t, and I wanted to like the characters, but I didn’t truly understand who they were, where they were from, what they were capable of, and their exact motivations. The entire time reading Witch King, I felt like I was grasping at straws that were being repeatedly hurled at me to only and instantaneously slip through my fingers. And though Witch King had initially ensnared me with its opening, which sees the main character escaping a magical (and quite literal), death trap, before I knew it, I dreaded picking the novel back up.

Even after fighting my way through to 43% of the novel, the equivalent of 185 pages, I cannot tell you anything about the titular Witch King, narrator Kai, other than the extreme basics. The man’s a demon who inhabits the bodies of mortals regardless of gender identity. He also seems to be notorious and feared and is referred to as “The Demon,” or “The Witch King,” but I can't tell you if he’s actually a witch or a king or is all three things—a demon, a witch, and a king. If I’m correct, in the past, he was referred to as a fourth demon prince, but I guess, somewhere along the way, there was a spot opening and he got a promotion? He also likes his grandmother.

I think a lot of people will really enjoy the characters, who seem to have a turbulent found family type of thing going on (something I typically love), and the original world-building, as well as the interesting way in which Witch King presents them, but sadly, I am just not one of those people. I prefer a more traditional and linear storytelling approach (at least when so little is being explained in both timelines), and as much as I wanted to like Witch King, it unfortunately just left far too much to the imagination for me. Readers who enjoy fantasy novels with queer relationships and identities, with unique world-building, and don’t mind non-linear storytelling with scant explanations will probably really enjoy Witch King.

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To my ultimate shame, I am DNFing this at 32%. When I am actively avoiding reading a book, I know it's time to put it down.

Anyway, this had been on my most anticipated books this year, because I really love Martha Well's Murderbot series. Unfortunately, I can't follow a dang thing that's happening in this book. It is DENSE with information, but absolutely none of it makes sense. There are approximately 23048234 characters, and you don't really get introduced to them. They're just suddenly there, and important. They all have unfamiliar, wildly fantasy-sounding names. Yes, there is a character sheet, but I shouldn't have to refer to it literally eight million times a chapter just to know who is who and what their allegiances might be.

I loved what I saw of Kai, I will give you that. He was sassy, interesting, and I so wish his story had been easier to follow. I feel like I'm going to be missing out on something, but when the book LITERALLY GIVES ME A HEADACHE, I'm not reading further. I'm so sorry, Tor, because I really like your books most of the time. This one just is not working for me, and I have a feeling a lot of people will feel the same way.

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*Thank you to NetGalley And Tor Publishing Group, Tordotcom for providing me this book in exchange for an honest review*

I really didn't like this book. I hope I did, but I didn't. Unfortunately I dnf'd it. I really hate it when too many new characters are written in the first chapters of the book and we don't know who they are. So yeah I dnf'd it @ 35%. The world building was not good and I couldn't connect to the characters. Not to a single one. So, unfortunately its a no for me. Maybe it would have been a great book. Maybe I missed out. I guess I'll never know.

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In this novel we follow Kai who is a demon that can body jump. The opening introduces us to Kai as he awakens trapped in a dead body with no memory of how he this happened. The story unravels over two timelines as we slowly learn about the world, the demons and how they fit into society and the mystery of what happened to Kai.

There are some great aspects to this book. The prose is excellent and the idea of the demons and how they are presented throughout this story was a fascinating idea. While there were moments that had me gripped and turning the page, those moments were few and far between and unfortunately I really struggled to continue reading this. I don't think it is a bad book, it just doesn't suit my personal taste.

We are thrown into the deep end at the start of the story and given enough information spread over two timelines to piece things together. This doesn't usually bother me and I'm happy to not be spoon fed world building and plot, however, if I'm going to spend the majority of a story confused about what is going on then I need to care about the characters, and I just didn't care about any of them.

I do think this is a case of "it is not the book, it's me" and perhaps if I read it during a time when I had more patience I would have enjoyed it. Or perhaps this just isn't the story for me. This is the second Martha Wells book I have not enjoyed and I think she just might not be the author for me (I really wanted to love Murderbot but sadly that was not the case).

Thank you to Netgalley and TOR for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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