Member Reviews

Thank you NetGalley and TOR Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read Witch King in exchange for an honest review.

Witch King is a very complex book, which is why I decided to DNF the book around 64%. It’s definitely more complex than other fantasy stories I have read. The writing was very dense, and the plot was really confusing to me which is why I couldn’t connect with the characters or the story. There’s also a lack of worldbuilding. I definitely can see why people would like this, but this just wasn’t for me.

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Witch King is a very complex but well written fantasy. The dual plot line sprinkles in information that you need to keep up with the story, so at times it definitely feels like you are drowning with no idea what's going on, but at other times you're swimming. I felt like I had no idea what was going on for most of the book, as our main character, Kai, was also trying to find out what was going on.

It has really cool magic, and a huge cast of characters that are very interesting in thier own right. I liked the friendship between Kai and Ziede, and it was definitely a more lighthearted part of the story.

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A masterful fantasy and science fiction author, equally adept in either genre, Martha Wells kicks off “Witch King” in the middle of the kind of confused action fantasy readers love. Kai—Kaisteron actually, a demon unusually living above the underworld, and mysteriously called the Witch King—wakes in a befuddled underwater prison and emerges to explore why he was there and to exact revenge. Kai is very much a Martha Wells creation, just slightly human-off-kilter and amoral, yet deeply feeling and quickly embraced by the reader as he tracks down trapped and hidden friends and enlists allies, while setting off on a journey through an astonishingly built fantasy world of technology and magic. Overlay a dazzlingly complex tapestry of peoples and alliances and enmities, throw in the genocidal Hierarchs, and the result is a swirling, fascinating, entertaining first entry in a must-read new fantasy series. Welcome, Witch King.

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While I really enjoyed the first chapter and the chapters set in the current timeline, I could not get into the alternating chapters that take pace in the past.
The whole book felt intentionally confusing. The flashback chapters were so hard to understand. So many new characters and places were introduced and little was actually explained to the reader. It was more so left up to us to interpret and figure out. Was not a fan of this.
There is also a major lack of world building.

I like to know and understand what is going on, and not be clueless throughout the majority of a book.

Will not recommend Witch King to other readers.

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While I’m not up-to-date with Martha Well’s current, very popular “Murderbot” series, I am a big fan of her in general. I read all of her “Books of Raksura” series a decade or so ago, for example. As with many SFF authors, it can become quite intimating to start up on a long-running series, regardless of how much one likes the author in general. So when I saw that she was releasing a stand-alone fantasy novel, I jumped on the opportunity to get back to reading her work. Let’s dive in!

After awakening from his own murder, Kai is fairly disturbed. As a demon, changing bodies is not pleasant, but it is manageable. What’s more worrying is the loss of time and the changing political movements of the world at large. With generations of lives making up his own long life-span, Kai is dependent on the few allies he has who have also experienced both his past and his present. But now they, too, are missing, and Kai is desperate not only to find them but to uphold a promise made long ago.

Brandon Sanderson is indisputably the current master of fantasy world-building. But I think what is not acknowledged is Martha Wells’ dynasty as a master of original character work. Not only are all of her characters enfolded in complex, layered arcs in each of their books, but she also has a real skill at writing non-human protagonists that, none the less, reflect very human challenges, joys, and sorrows but through very unique angles. The “Murderbot” series is an obvious example, but the series I read about a decade ago also featured an entire world “peopled” by alien creatures without a humanoid in sight (that I remember at least). And here, in this book, Wells is back at it, presenting us not only with Kai, a demon, but with an entire society built up around various peoples, many humanoid but not quite human either.

But, of course, Kai is our main character. And while some of the typical lore around demons is touched on, it is clear early on that Kai is not the sort of demon we are familiar with. Instead, his kind have formed a symbiotic pact with a group of human people where both societies benefit from the intermingling of their kind. But, through a series of flashbacks seen throughout the book, a powerful and ruthless new group of magic users began a marching conquest of the known world that resulted in the decimation not only of demon kind but also of the many peoples who make up this world.

The use of these flashbacks was incredibly effective, though I will say they highlight another crucial aspect of Wells’ writing style. She’s definitely of those high fantasy authors who creates incredibly complex and nuanced worlds and just plops her readers down right in the middle of the action. You basically have to be comfortably not understanding everything you’re currently reading on the page. Instead, the joy is found in trusting that understanding will come, and it will come in a very specifically constructed and directed manner laid out by the author. In this book, as the story is about a being who has lived for generations, these flashbacks do a lot of work to really set up the stakes of the current situation. Not only the history behind the current political upheaval, but also the relationships Kai has formed with his small band of allies, all of whom we slowly meet throughout the story.

The writing and plotting is also incredibly tight. There were moments when I was laughing out loud at the dialogue and Kai’s distinctly unhuman manner of looking at the world. But then there would be heart-wrenching scenes that perfectly highlighted that while not all of these characters are human, they still experience the same sense of love and betrayal, hope and despair. The pace was steady and even throughout the story, and I enjoyed the themes of found family, trust, and the struggle of individual cultures and peoples when facing a powerful enemy. Overall, I can’t recommend this book enough to SFF readers. It’s definitely not an “entry level” story, but if you’re a fantasy fan who enjoys slowly building an understanding of a world and story, than this is the perfect book for you!

Rating 10: A sprawling world and history to explore alongside the best grumpy, snark demon I can imagine!

(Link will go live May 24)

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This book has a lot of moving parts, the beginning was very interesting and the world building was exquisite! I just couldn’t get into it as much as I wanted to. The concept was great, but it was pretty dense. Long long chapters too, which I do not have a pref for, usually.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book.

I have not read the author's work before, but as a fantasy lover, I figured this would be a good introduction since I have heard so many people praise the Murderbot series. Sadly, this did not work for me and I had to DNF about a quarter in.

My main issue was that the book felt very convoluted and like necessary information was withheld.
It throws you right into the story, but it felt less like "throw you in the water, so you learn how to swim" and a lot more like just drowning. There was no context, several character names are just thrown at you, and you're trying to make sense of things, but then the next chapter comes, and it's a flashback that's completely different from chapter 1 and things are back to making no sense.
Even 20% in, I didn't really have a clue what was going on or what the goal of the story is, and for a 400ish pages standalone, that's just way too long.
In hindsight, the amount of characters listed in the Dramatis Personae should have been my first clue, a 3,5-pages long list of characters for a medium-sized standalone is a bit much in my opinion.

Because of how confusing it was and how little explanations were given, I just did not care about the characters or the plot and decided it is not worth for me to finish.

I'm sure other people feel differently and will love this book, but personally, I think this should have been a properly developed series, which would have done justice to the complexity of the worldbuilding and the amount of characters.

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Kai, the legendary demon prince and hero who helped strike a critical blow to a seemingly invincible enemy, is surprised to wake up in an elaborate magical prison with someone attempting to bind him to their service forever. After swiftly dispatching this minor annoyance, he realizes that he has been out of commission for some time, and has to piece together what happened and figure out who betrayed him. With the help of his friend Ziede and a slowly growing group of people invested in his success or just along for the ride, Kai grapples with the possibility that he was perhaps betrayed by someone he trusted above all others.

This is a long, well-written, and fiercely entertaining book that features a world so vividly drawn you can easily lose yourself in its fields and ruined palace complexes. Fans of epic fantasy will enjoy this, and fans of Wells' Murderbot series may also find much to like here if they are willing to be patient with a slightly slippery story that jumps back and forth in time while following our heroes on their journey.

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Kaiisteron, Prince of the Fourth House of the Underneath, wakes up in a seemingly impossible situation; his current body was assassinated, placed in a tomb underwater, and now a magic user, known as an Expositor, is trying to take him over as a familiar. Kai, who has very strong powers, even in his current state of being essentially bodyless, overcomes the man who would use him. Now Kai must figure out where he is and why, since he has the ability to body hop, Kai has to deal with his new form as well. Kai and Ziede, a witch who was also attacked and imprisoned at the same time, begin a desperate quest to find another of their allied group as well as the reason they were attacked in the first place.

This epic story is told in two intertwining timelines, past and present, to show who Kai is, where he came from, and what state the current polity, the Rising World Coalition, is in since his yearlong entombment. Kai’s history is quite complicated with the past chapters giving a lot of background information including the different bodies that Kai has inhabited. He takes on something of the personalities from each body he occupies becoming part of the person’s group and lifestyle, sometimes in a good way and at other times, less so.

Kai and his associates, including some new rescues along the way, have a complicated and often dangerous journey ahead of them to find a magical stone that will hopefully lead to their missing member. Several classes of magic users are involved in this story. In the past, a great war was fought to overcome a group of usurpers called the Hierarchs who devastated and enslaved several populations including the one Kai has been part of where he was in a woman’s body. Gender makes no difference to his kind but does I think influence his demeanor with that inhabitation. Kai’s magical abilities are pain based requiring him to endure much suffering while fighting his enemies as well as protecting friends.

This story is a quite complex narrative with the two different story lines; however, they work well together helping the reader parse out then and now. In some ways Kai reminds me of my favorite character of Ms. Wells, Murderbot, with his acerbic humor and tendency to not suffer fools gladly although the style of this book is more akin the author’s other Fantasy series. The world building takes up a lot of the story so readers will have to pay close attention while meeting quite a few characters particularly in the past timeline. At 432 pages, there is a lot of information to keep straight. Fans of Ms. Wells will be pleased with this new Fantasy book which has quite a bit of action and adventure, as well as a found family of sorts in which looks to be a new series.

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The Witch King ~ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Anything where they list the characters at the beginning I know I’m in for it. This was a complex fantasy I’d say, I found some parts to be hard to follow, and some character names to be similar that I got confused at times.

I was really excited for this book, I love Murderbot so I had high hopes for a new fantasy by Wells. But this didn’t work for me, it was hard to follow and I can easily see myself forgetting what the story was. The present day story was rather short and the past story I found to be almost not necessary.

Was it well written, yes. Did I like the character work, yes. Was there a large amount of time spent describing what people were wearing, yes? Anyways, 3 stars for me, it was hard for me to finish.

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Martha Wells is a master at subtly building worlds that the reader falls in love with. With every page you get a new small detail that develops this new world just a little more. There is no struggle remembering details because the concepts are integrated into the story rather than through an information dump.

Her characters are endearing and unique. Their interactions with each other are organic. All of the characters are rememberable, you never have to stop in your reading and think, "wait, who is that?" because you remember them.

There is a deep history hinted at, a less distant past and a current timeline - all three leaving the reader satisfied while desperate for more.

I cannot wait to read this story again and to read further adventures of Kai and his friends in Witch King.

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An epic start to a genderfluid high fantasy full of rebellion uprising, betrayal, and adventure.

The Witch King takes you through the past as our present-day characters set forth to find their missing friends and discover who betrayed them.

My only wish would have been further progression in the present storyline, but with a complex world and history, I'm not sure that would have been possible. I can't wait to see what lays ahead of our characters as the story progresses.

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Alright, now there is a very large possibility that this book is simply too smart for me, which is what I choose to believe. I have enjoyed Martha Wells other works, which is why I was beyond surprised when I got through the first chapter, literally zero things made any sense to me, and I reread the entire chapter again. I pushed through, got through chapter three, and started the book over again. It honestly felt like either A. I would have to be in a heightened drug-induced state - or - b. have a higher level of brain cells than I current posses. The headaches which were induced during reading this existential-mind-bender was not very high number, but certainly more than one.
I closed this book having quite literally zero idea of what the hell had just happened. Like I was popped out of a dream bubble and placed back on earth. it's 3 stars bc I don't understand it, but it's 5 stars on straight vibes alone.

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I really enjoyed Murderbot, so I had high hopes for the Witch King. This was a pretty good epic fantasy, however, the pacing and storyline felt a little MEH towards the middle. The writing was amazing, as I expected it to be, but the premise was just a little lackluster. Still a worthwhile read with some amazing MC. I adored Kai and, as usual, Martha has dreamt up a really fun and exciting cast of characters.

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What a remarkable book(4.25 from me)! I enjoyed my journey with the main cast so much!

The book starts off when the famous Witch King(our main character Kai) wakes up after a very long forced sleep and instantly has to deal with a variety of problems.

I liked the way this book started - you find yourself in the middle of the action, the stakes are high, a lot is going on and you with the main character both have no idea why. I like this style and the book was engaging from page one.

In parallel with the current timeline, we have flashbacks that show us Kai's origins and how he came to his position in history. Flashbacks and the current timeline were blended in a great way and when the switch happened I wanted to read more and more - because there was always an intrigue between these two. This technique helped with the pacing and the book never dragged or felt boring.

The character cast was endearing even though sometimes our characters have to make hard decisions or even be ruthless. I liked the dynamics between them and the feeling of comradery and family. It was a nice touch.

This book felt to me like a good example of high fantasy. There was a lot of worldbuilding, magic was rather complicated and the history was fleshed out.

The mystery aspect was nice and the revelation was rather satisfying to me, though it hurt my heart a little.

All in all, I flew through this book and loved my time with it. The only thing I would have loved even more about it is if it was longer. I loved spending time in this world and honestly, I just wanted more.
And I'm so grateful to Netgalley and Tordotcom for providing me with this advanced reading copy, I couldn't be happier about it.

Also I noticed that a rather big percentage of bad reviews starts the same way - "I loved Murderbot, so I wanted to read it as well". I think this reasoning can be a mistake. I love Murderbot too and will not lie saying it wasn't one of the reasons I requested this ARC. But I love fantasy, all subgenres of it, for me sci-fi is almost a deviation from my tastes. So what I wanted to say - Witch King is really different from Murderbot in all things that matter. Murderbot is a short, quick, and not complicated read. There are no huge worldbuilding or years of history, all things about the world are really natural and just exist in the plot. Murderbot is super character-focused and it is its main charm. Witch King, Kai, is a charismatic lead as well. But that is where similarities end. So I recommend you to pick up Witch King if you love the fantasy genre and don't mind spending time getting familiar with the world and magic around you.

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3.5

Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for providing an eARC to review!

Reminiscent of the Murderbot series in its touches of dry humour and its protagonists who would rather do anything but save the world, Witch King will be an enjoyable read for fans of the author, as well as for readers of Gideon the Ninth.

The dual timeline plot keeps you guessing right up until the end, and Wells manages to create an elaborate world and magic system without dumping the information on you all in one go. This is a story that takes its time, and I think one that can only be appreciated after a reread. Witch King fits into the category of books where you won't know what's going on for a lot of the time, but you'll be along for the ride anyway.

Definitely a book I'm glad I read, but I feel I would need to reread to fully appreciate what's going on here. Some really cool magic, an interesting cast of characters, and elements of world-building that are wholly unique - this is what would draw me back to the story just to see what other gems I can pick out.

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The writing in this story is so vivid and imaginative. The structure of this story is interesting. Told in the present as well as flashbacks of the past, we get a sense of Kai, the fourth prince Witch King demon - how he became to be.

There is a mystery. Who locked them up for years?

conspiracy?

All the while unfolding a revolution that Kai played an important role in freeing the world.

A fantastic novel! Can’t wait to get a finish copy.

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This was a very fun standalone fantasy, with a great cast of characters. It follows a dual timeline: one somewhat a mystery as Kai is trying to figure out who betrayed him, and one in the past when the Important Historical Events happened. The variety of magic users was very cool, each with a distinctive source/flare, but presented in a way where it isn't confusing. The characterizations were very personable, and I thoroughly enjoyed following along with the Then and Now.

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Read WITCH KING by Martha Wells if you love body swapping, rebellions & uprisings, dropping into a story already in progress, duel narratives, genderf*ckery, demons, witches, uncovering mysteries, political intrigue, allies, lovers, found family, and floods.

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I was so excited to get this ARC for Martha Wells new book Witch King. It did not disappoint.

I fell in love with her writing through her Murder Bot series. This is nothing like those books. This is high fantasy. She utilizes a dual time line to develop her world building. This structure worked well for me—I was equally drawn in by both timelines.

I loved all the different ways magic was used or manifested. This book covered things themes of loyalty, displacement, home, regrets, family, and identity.

I have not read any of her other fantasy books. This one gave me so much respect for her talent and story telling ability. I would highly recommend this one.

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