Cover Image: Witch King

Witch King

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I rarely DNF books. I can't stand leaving things unfinished, can't justify putting time into something and not seeing it through. Yet, at some point about 1/4th into Witch King, I realized I wasn't having that much fun. Though the premise is intriguing, and Martha Wells' writing is clean and flows nicely, I was simply not in the right mood for this book, which demands attention, a book whose political and magic systems are incredibly intricate—in my case, just a tad TOO intricate.

Witch King also jumps constantly between the present and past, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but trying to navigate the jumps in setting and time and plot is difficult enough as it is without being bogged down by mass amounts of worldbuilding. Perhaps one day, when I am ready to commit myself to fully learning the intricacies of this novel, I'm sure I'll have a much more enjoyable time. Unfortunately, this book just wasn't right for me at this moment of my life. I've heard fantastic things about Wells' Murderbot series, so maybe I'll start there instead.

DNF at 27.3%

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I feel awoken, from an adventure in a Middle Eastern vibe fantasy, with witches, hierarchs, mortals and demons. It was like traveling in the perils of different intriguing characters that were well written and strong. I highly recommend this! You could do well with a Chai tea while reading this. Martha Wells done a great job. I loved Kaiisteron so much.

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Plot: 4/5
We are thrown further into the thick of it. Our main character has been murdered, but thankfully he’s an extremely powerful witch (the Witch King) and jumps into another body. But he, nor his companion Ziede, can remember how they got into this predicament. I love this set up for the plot. We know as much as the characters about the mystery BUT we are given constant doses of world building because they are just dropping info left and right.
The story is very fast moving and you really have to be paying attention at all times to follow what’s going on.

Characters: 3/5
I think the characters were the only weaker part of this book. A lot of people are introduced very quickly and with not enough definition to help the reader keep it all straight.
I enjoyed the main character, his magic, and his personality. I liked the development that both he and Ziede had.

Writing: 4/5
I love Wells’ writing style, it’s so classically fantasy with clear personality. She developed a really unique world and there’s a lot of depth to it.

Overall: 4/5

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I struggled with this book.

I'm not normally a high fantasy reader and this book reminded me why. I had a hard time with the names, the magic system, and all of the ins and outs of the different clans.

I did like that there was something happening the first five pages in - it sucked you in and got me wanting to read more.

This book is great for someone who likes high fantasy and intricate world-building.

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Embrace the confusion!

In 1995 I saw the Film Ghost in the Shell. It was a formative experience for me. The film was incredibly confusing -- cyborgs and thermoptic camouflage and international plots and sentient net intelligences and wheels within plots within wheels within plots. When it was over I had only the vaguest idea what had happened. But I was mortally certain of one thing: I LOVED it!

What I didn't know at the time was that This Was How It Was Going To Be From Now On. Since then all major science fiction and most fantasy novels have been like that. I expect when I read a new one not to know what's going on. (Consider recent reads Children of Memory, Myriad, or grand-prize winner, the entirety of Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb Series.) In fact, it is now at the point where, if I understand a new F&SF novel on the first read, I feel cheated.

Martha Wells Witch King does not disappoint in this regard. Hierarchs and Expositors and Watches and Demons and cantrips and intentions -- what are all these things? And, basic question -- are there Good guys, and Bad guys, and who are they? I sometimes complain when novels contain "infodumps". (See, e.g., my review of The Bone Wars.) But at about 20% of Witch King, I was saying to myself, "An infodump right now would be awfully handy." I didn't get one. But by about 50% it began to make sense, and when I reached the end, I had a not-entirely-incoherent overview of the whole story. It'll need a re-read.

Why is Witch King confusing? Well, there is a complicated and never-explained magic system, and a society with many different types of magical creatures whose powers and political relationships are only retrospectively explained. But that, of course, is all in a day's work for the modern F&SF reader. What makes Witch King really tough is the dual timelines. There are 26 chapters. Sixteen are named Chapter One, ..., Chapter Sixteen. But Chapter Three is not the third chapter -- it is the fourth. The Third chapter is called "The Past: The Beginning". There are ten of these chapters called "The Past: [some title]", and they are scattered throughout the book. The explicitly numbered chapters One through Sixteen are about events in what you can, if you like, call The Present -- a time later than The Past. The Past, of course, provides the background for The Present. When you start reading, you don't know this background. When I reread this I plan to try reading the ten Past chapters first, followed by Chapters One through Sixteen.

The central character of Witch King is the demon Kaiisteron (usually shortened to Kai). Kai is of course a Good Guy, pretty much by definition, since it is from his point of view that we see things. Besides being a total badass, Kai is in the business of helping his friends, for instance, a witch called Ziede. Kai never seems to have a plan -- he just seems to be making things up as he goes along. But Kai is an old and crafty demon -- do not trust that appearance of planless spontaneity.

So, Witch King is a challenging but intriguing story with an appealing hero.

I thank NetGalley and Tor for an advance reader copy of Witch King. This review expresses my honest opinions. To be released 30-May-2023.

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Big thank you NetGalley and to the publisher for the chance to review this book pre-release. Holy. Smokes. This was my first book by Ms. Wells, and I was absolutely enthralled the whole way through. The reader is plopped right into the thick of things, and I really love that, especially since it was done in a way where I didn't feel lost or out of place. The world building was introduced at a great pace, and the characters were really well-rounded, I didn't feel like I was reading about them, I felt like I was WITH them. A more formal review will be available on my IG/TikTok and Goodreads.

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Nice read.

The reader gets thrown directly into the story. There aren't many explanations about world building or the characters, but while this is confusing at the beginning, it's not actually that complicated, so it doesn't take that long to more or less figure everything out.

The plot however stays a mystery for a little longer. The whole point of the book is essentially that Kai, the main character, tries to figure out what is going on, so the reader is just as confused as he is.
Unfortunately, I kind of missed the part where he does figure everything out. I kept waiting for some big revelation, but suddenly the book was over. I still don't know if my questions were answered and I simply didn't notice, or if they just got ignored.
It's not exactly boring though - things happen, it's exciting! But I felt like none of that had anything to do with the plot and kept waiting for something bigger that sadly never came.

The book is written in two timelines, the past and the present. On one hand this was interesting as you slowly get the backstory and are able to compare the characters with themselves and see the development even better. On the other hand it was sometimes confusing as for what was going on. I guess you were supposed to figure out the present by seeing what happened in the past, but that didn't quite work for me, as Kai also lived in the past and he obviously still didn't know what was going on in the present. To be honest, it also took some time for me to figure out the time gap between the two timelines as there aren't really any numbers. Is it a year? Two? A hundred? Who is still alive from the past, or did some people die of old age by now? I got it eventually, but that was a confusing time.

One thing that I seriously enjoyed was the take on demons and witches. It was a great idea and well thought through and I loved to read something different.
Also, the characters were lovely. Kai was a sweetheart and Ziede was great and I loved all the different relationships.

In the beginning, I also really enjoyed the writing. It was quite beautiful, but after a while I got annoyed by the way how nothing really got said. Everything got hinted at or described in a way that made me want to ask what that sentence actually was supposed to tell me.
I also would've loved more world building and more explanations about everything. We get enough that all the big questions are answered, but this is a fantasy book! I want to know everything, not just the bare minimum!

So overall - nice enough book. But it had so much potential that didn't really get used.

Thank you NetGalley and the Tor Publishing Group for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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What a wonderful epic fantasy novel!

Martha Wells is not afraid to throw the reader directly into the action without holding your hand through the world-building, and for me, that was fun! I will say- this is a dense fantasy book so if you’re looking for anything like Murderbot you will not find it here.

The story follows Kai, a demon Prince, woken up abruptly from a deep slumber with no idea how or why he’s been trapped in a tower- or for how long. With the help of his friend Ziede, a powerful witch in her own right, and some new allies they set out to find answers and the rest of their family. Alternating between two timelines, Witch King will take you on a journey through a vivid new world with characters that will steal your heart.

I know high fantasy can be hard, and even for me it was a slow read. But before I even realized it, I had fallen in love with the characters and their world. There were parts of the book that unexpectedly hit me like an arrow to the heart. I would die for Kai, Ziede, and their trauma-bonded found family! I loved seeing the past timeline unfold- especially all the parts where we get to see Kai’s life with the Saredi. Oh and did I mention? THIS BOOK IS GAY AF!!!

This books is very much Game of Thrones x Darker Shades of Magic and I, for one, welcome our demon overlord.

Martha Wells is a King of her craft. I would read her grocery lists, etc., etc.

Thank you to NetGalley, Tor Publishing, and Martha Wells for an eARC in exchange for an honest review!

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What I Liked
-We are dropped directly into the action and mystery of the story sans any sort of exposition
-Main character is a demon trapped in a host body
-World building and character development are handled excellently.
What didn't work as well for me
-It took a few chapters for me to become fully oriented in the story being presented
Who I recommend this title for
The Witch King by Martha wells will be a true treat for fans of their previous fantasy works and a wonderful introduction for those new to the author.

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Dropped into the story en media res, we find ourselves with Kai, a demon that was trapped and finds itself within the body of a new host (because he can do that sort of thing). What follows is a journey and a mystery. How did Kai (and Ziede, a witch) end up trapped? Where is Tahren (Ziede's wife and a Blessed being)? How long have they been there? And who is responsible?

This world is rich and vibrant, with a mess of people and political intrigue. There is magic, in a way, but it feels more like an abstract source of power than most magic we tend to see in fantasy stories. The magic is there, and important, but does not overpower the characters and their search for answers. The story goes back and forth between past and present, each portion slowly pulling together the threads that will lead Kai and Ziede to the answers that they seek (because the present is firmly linked to past events). And boy, are those threads twisty and tangled. This is a story of power and politics and conspiracy and war. It is also a story of knowing who to trust with your life, and who to keep at a distance. The closeness of Kai and Ziede is apparent, and their dialogue with each other highlights the familiarity they have as a result of the years and events that brought them together.

Throughout, you also get the sense that Kai is tired. And loyal. And wishes that he probably wasn't so right about many things. And the ending suggests that things might not yet be done and that there is more story to tell.

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If you're coming to this book from MurderBot like I was, you may be disappointed.

What I like about MurderBot is the endearing, weirdly relatable characters, the fun but fairly simple story, and the friendships that grow despite all odds. Considering the narrator is a MurderBot, you wouldn't expect to love the side characters, but you do! It's so well done.

This really couldn't be further from that. I have no doubt many people will like it (and I don't dislike it on a technical level), but it's just not for me. The story starts in one place, and just as soon as you get interested it switches to an older timeline and throws a bunch of information at you and this is where it started to lose me. I pushed through for a while, but at a certain point, you have to ask yourself why if you're not connected to any character or plot.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

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I received this eARC from and am providing an unbiased review.

The story starts off as said above, with Kai, our main character, coming to awareness in some sort of water prison. Why such an elaborate prison? Well, Kai is a demon, of the fourth level. From there our story takes off with Kai trying to unite former friends and allies, and try to figure out what has happened since he was imprisoned. There is a war going on from a race that is trying to dominate the world, and he and his allies are working to prevent it.

There are many types of magic in this story, ranging from demons, to witches, to 'star-touched' magistrates, plus a power of magic from the enemy that is formidable. Most of the story is told centered around Kai, with some sections of 'what happened before' his watery prison. We learn Kai is a demon with some very strong powers that most demons do not possess, and with the aid of friends/allies, he leads them to a final battle.

Good stand-alone story, with a detailed world building with some thought out methods of travel and lifestyles of the many peoples. Story kept a good reading pace, and I don't recall any part that seemed slow, or unneeded for the story.

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Thanks to Tor Publishing and NetGalley for the E-ARC.

Let me just start by saying I am a sucker for the found family trope. And an immortal demon who keeps collecting orphans and creating family is one of my favorite tropes so far. It's like Kai just keeps stumbling on orphans and being like I DON'T TRUST PEOPLE, but also I love you and you're my family.

I do appreciate the multiple chances they give people to leave if they need to. Overall this was an interesting story told between the past and the present. I am hoping that there is a second story, because currently I have a lot of questions left from this book. I felt like there were still a lot of unanswered questions that could be teased out in a trilogy. Especially where do the Hierarchs come from? Also, how does the magic system work? Can anyone do it or is it like a specific thing? How do the wells work? Is there a way to undo the blocking of the underearth?

While the main storyline gets resolved, I just have all these questions burning in my mind. Give me more Martha! Give me more!

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I was SO excited for this novel. The Murderbot diaries is one of my all-time favorite series. Unfortunately, I found Witch King unnecessarily convoluted, opaque, and difficult to follow in a way that makes it feel less like an engaging puzzle box and more like the author is arbitrarily withholding basic information to make the work feel more complex than it is. While I liked the main character and some secondary characters, the cast takes far too long to really gel together. The plot is shapeless and meandering, with frustrating pacing that switches back and forth between a nebulously distant history and an infuriatingly slow present. The opening scenes are strong, and there are several moments of genuine hilarity and exciting action, but overall I found this to be highly disappointing.

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Witch King by Martha Wells is an enthralling fantasy novel that beautifully blends magic, intrigue, and human relationships. The writing style is gripping and vivid, painting an immersive world full of striking landscapes, diverse cultures, and fascinating creatures. Switching between the past and the present, we get the full experience of new world and new factions. The characters are well-developed and relatable, each with their quirks, strengths, and flaws. Kai and Ziede's friendship and humor was certainly a highlight. However my issue with Kai was the sheer difference between before and after - it felt a little disjointed.

Witch King is a fantastic addition to Martha's catalogue and a must-read for fans of epic fantasy. Whether you're new to the author or a longtime follower, you'll be enchanted by this beautiful and fantastical story.

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This book was provided to me by NetGalley for an early review!

This entire review is purely my thoughts and opinions. Please read more than just one review before making any judgments and as always, please read the book for yourself to make sure you can be the best judge possible! :)

Kai is a demon. But not just any demon, he is THE demon.

When Kai suddenly wakes up after being imprisoned, he is thrust on an adventure with the help of his trusty best friend Ziede to find Ziede's missing wife and to figure out how they ended up in this situation to begin with.

Here are my pros:
1. I really loved the past POV from Kai. I think that this particular POV worked REALLY well for this book. I was intrigued to find out what happened next and how that correlated to the present and where things were going. I think Martha Wells did a wonderful job of introducing the world and topics through this perspective in a gentle way that felt very natural.
2. I liked the relationship between Kai and Ziede. I think their friendship felt natural and real. The banter was good and lighthearted but also the deeper points of conversation were raw and complemented the relationship well, showing a longer term relationship.
3. I enjoyed the plot. It was complicated and interesting with different factors from mystery, political intrigue, and magic. The plot was complex enough to keep me turning the page and the past vs. present POV's keep me wondering how things came together in the current plot.
4. It had great representation for the ASL community which I really loved! I thought this was a fun element added in and it was done really tastefully.

Here are my cons:
1. I was REALLY confused on the multiple fractions and peoples in this book. I still don't full understand the different groups and what they each were supposed to be doing politically. I think this book went a bit too fast trying to throw 4-5 different groups of people at us without taking the time to explain what each one was after or wanted or did. You were forced to figure it out through context that sometimes wouldn't come until later in the book.
2. Some of the humor fell a bit flat but this is minor imo.
3. Kai in the present POV was a much different character than the one in the past. While I understand the idea that characters are supposed to change and evolve, it felt like sometimes they were so different that they were not the same character.
4. Martha Wells used a certain literary device (not sure what it would be called) in a lot of her writing in this book. For example: "I like this place," Kai said, then a little surprised to realize he wasn't being ironic. ---- I think the overuse of this particular device was a bit tiring for me. I can pick up on the context of this sentence without needing to be told that he wasn't being ironic. I wish she would have left some of these out since they just got a bit repetitive after awhile.

Overall, I think this was a great quick read from Martha Wells. I cannot wait to read more from her while I impatiently wait for her newest Murderbot Diaries!!

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Witch King by Martha Wells, a good story that I hope to read more in a series from, Title is little misleading but I do think it works itself out within the telling of the tale.

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I was already sure from the Goodreads description that I would like this one. The story is captivating, and even with my number one pet peeve, switching between two timelines, I managed to be invested in the story from start to end. I really enjoyed Kai as the main character, and I found his character development between the two timelines fascinating. He felt very human, albeit being a demon, and I loved the juxtaposition of his cold practicality and his care for his chosen family and companions. I really enjoyed seeing some LGBTQIA+ representation, and Kai's way of seeing gender was refreshing. The magic system in this book is very interesting, and I'm obsessed with Bashasa, I need fan art of him NOW.

The reason I didn't give this book five stars was how much info, history and politics was thrown to the reader at once. Maybe others didn't have as hard time with this as I did, but as a person who doesn't find politics very interesting, I struggled a lot with the opposing groups and long list of side characters. I'm still not sure what happened in between the two timelines and who should be considered the "bad guys" in the current timeline. I began to understand the world building about halfway into the story, and at that point I had probably already forgotten some of the details from the very start.

Thank you NetGalley and Tor Publishing Group for this ARC!

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Martha Wells's The Witch King is a fascinating and exciting contribution to the fantasy canon. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as Wells spins a tale of power, betrayal, and friendship.

Kai, the main character, is an intriguing and mysterious figure. The reader becomes emotionally concerned in his plight as he fights to remember his past and figure out why he was locked up. Wells also excels at world-building, creating a fantastical and perilous setting full of magic and mystery.

Even the smaller background characters have distinct personalities and stories to tell as well. The characters' relationships and interactions are the book's shining point, and Wells is a master at crafting such characters.

The action scenes are exciting and well-choreographed, keeping the tale moving briskly. Wells' witty and endearing prose lightens the book's sombre and serious issues.

In conclusion, The Witch King is a fantastic read for fantasy aficionados of all stripes. By all accounts, Wells's latest novel is another shining example of her prowess as a writer.

4/5 Stars from me.

***A big thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.***

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As a Murderbot fan, I was beyond excited to get this advanced copy. I haven’t read other Martha Wells’ books but I was in desperate need of an epic fantasy that demands one’s full attention and Witch King delivered.

The story opens with Kai, a demon prince, waking after having been murdered and his body and consciousness trapped. Who trapped him, why, and what has been happening since his assassination are questions we learn the answers to along with Kai as the story unfolds.
It took me an uncharacteristic 12 days to read this book and I’m glad I took my time because, while it did grip me from the start, it required my full brain power. This is definitely not a light read. The timelines switch between past and present, so the worldbuilding isn’t linear and you have to trust it a bit but eventually everything clicks into place. I thought it was done well, especially as the story progressed and the parallels between the two timelines became clearer.

For the first part I found myself enjoying the past chapters more, as there was more action and exposition on the world. Later chapters however pretty much all blew me away with tension, reveals and cliffhangers; one would just happen in the past and then another get resolved in the present and then another would just happen and so on. I loved it.

I loved the worldbuilding. I loved the attention to detail, the clothes, the cultures, but especially the Saredi. I can’t stop thinking about the part where Kai is baffled by stone walls because in Saredi tents space is easilly repartitioned by curtains to allow for more family and friends. It’s such a cool detail that tells so much and this book is just full of those. I really hope this is going to be a series because I haven’t had enough.

As for the characters, Kai and Ziede really take the cake. I enjoyed their banter and seeing their friendship develop in both timelines, it was really well done. Bashasa, Tahren, Ramad and Saadrin were just delightful, vivid and really stuck out to me. Sanja and Tenes, however (and sadly), I could almost do without. I felt like so much more could’ve been done with Sanja, but she was as side as a side character can be. I’m not sure if she was supposed to be a parallel with Kai’s past, a Badass and Child trope à la the Hound and Arya or Joel and Ellie, or something else and I wouldn’t have cared much had it not been for a couple spots where Kai is said to know something about Sanja as a person that’s just… not established. Tenes, while having an amazing introduction and great potential, mind you, also just kind of stays in the background and underutilized from one point until the end.

Surprisingly, the problems I had while reading some action sequences in Murderbot didn’t repeat here. Maybe it’s the fact that I find magic instead of physical action easier to follow, but it was an improvement I’m happy to report. I did find myself having to go back and reread paragraphs, sometimes whole pages, but the blame might be my own for often just pushing ahead after not paying full attention and waiting for context to clue me in, and this isn’t a world you can just skim.

All in all, this was high fantasy in its purest form and if you love to get lost in well thought out, rich, lush worldbuilding you’re going to love Witch King.

Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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