Member Reviews

I ended up really liking the world and the characters of Witch King, but I will admit that it took some perseverance. I can't quite point to why but it felt like the story didn't really get rolling until about 2/3 through the book. The world did feel very rich and interesting but I felt disconnected for the first part of the story--perhaps it was just too much unfamiliar stuff all at once. That said, I did get pulled in eventually, and ended up enjoying the book overall.


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This novel demands attention, there is a lot to take in. It starts quite slowly but the pace builds to a page turning finish. Chapters alternate between past and present, which can be a little confusing. The main protagonist is a demon, Kai, who inhabits the bodies of recently deceased mortals. A pearl in Kai’s heart connects him telepathically with Zeide, a witch, who can control wind devils. The story starts as they both wake to find themselves in some elaborate trap cut off from the outside world.
This is an epic fantasy with great world building and a complex magic system involving cantrips and intentions. Magic is drawn from wells of suffering and mortal misery. There is a lot of action, some of which is underwater much to Kai’s dislike, demons are not fond of water. A group of different beings comes together not without some trepidation, wary of past betrayals, in a quest to find some finding stones and start a revolution against the genocidal Hierarchs.
There is a plenty of wry humor between the characters and the story is engaging, if a little confusing at times. I hope the finished book will come with a map of the lands and a plan of the Summer Halls, as that would be useful for following the action.
I enjoyed this immensely and found the characters fascinating and flawed, particularly Kai.
I received this book as a free ARC via NetGalley and the publisher, Tor in exchange for an honest review.

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I really loved the characters and the world, but all through it I could help thinking: this would have worked so much better as two separate books.

I get what Wells was going for by introducing Kai and Ziede then showing us their past, but switching back and forth kept killing the momentum in both stories. It also would have given more space to actually get to know some of the other characters, so that plot elements like ‘the quest to find Tahren’ and ‘is Ramad a traitor’ would have more emotional depth to them. Instead while the main action was generally exciting and I was completely invested in what was happening it was very easy to forget why they were doing this at times, particularly in the present timeline.

Honestly, I respect the lack of infodumping. Having a world with three different magic systems that I can at least vaguely tell the difference between without a big scene where it’s all explained is pretty impressive. The generic evil empire is probably the worst world building component here, they seem to exist just to be the bad guys.

Overall, I would absolutely read more books in the series, but preferably ones that focus on one point in time.

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Kai (main male character), who after he was murdered, was confined to a water trap while time continued to pass around him. When he wakes up in a different body, he has more questions than answers. He teams up with his allies in an attempt to learn more. The beginning of the book was very hard for me to get into and more political than I tend to go for especially in my fantasy reads. There is a glossary for this book but on an e-reader it was hard going back and forth for referencing and that pulled away from me. I would rather read this as a physical copy due to all the elements with this novel. The second half does pick up and that’s when you get pulled in and start having fun and excitement with this novel. It was confusing a bit so my suggestion is sticking with it. Is it my favorite no but would I recommend it yes especially if this is your style or element.

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Wells drops you right into the middle of a political adventure as Kai, the titular Witch King, and his partner wake to find themselves entombed on a secluded island unaware of how they got there and with another mage hoping to steal his power. That easily handled, Kai needs to find out how he ended up in this situation to begin with. His past plays out in chapters interspersed with the present, with interesting characters, and a world I’d happily visit again. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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Simply put, this novel is unique in its construction. Without giving anything away, there are multiple layers and they offer complementary undertones. But I wasn't fully invested in the story until about a third of the way in. The descriptions were excellent, and Tarrow is such a fascinating character, I just wasn't gripped until Act II. Would I continue reading, if this became a series? Probably. But I would be expecting a tighter knit first act.

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While this novel wasn't bad by any means, I regret to say that I was pretty disappointed by The Witch King, which is probably more a result of how hyped I was for Wells' first new foray into the fantasy genre in quite a while.

The Witch King follows the demon Witch King, Kai, as he is willing to do anything to rebel against autocratic power regimes and saves the ones he loves. What ultimately results is a book fully of ideas, but it just too abstract to really be the immersive fantasy read I was hoping for.

Like any book from Martha Wells, Witch King is bursting with creativity. The world, while definitely pulling from West and South Asian cultures in some of its customs, feels wholly original and avoids the problem having the "nation that is a veiled East Asia" and the "nation that is a veiled Scandinavia" (so on and so forth). Wells not only subverts many of the tropes of the fantasy genre, she smashes through them, grinds them with her boot, and proceeds onwards. If there was anything that I was completely enthralled by in this book it was Wells' purse imagination in the way that she constructed the world around her characters.

But I think at times Wells' uninhibited creativity may have come at a bit of a detriment to my overall engagement with the book. I think there were many occasions where the world felt so different, so new, and so alien that I had a difficult time really centering myself in the story and setting. It was almost as if Wells at time struggled to put her ideas down into words and clearly transport what was going on in her head into the heads of her readers. I am a very visual reader; I like to be able to immerse myself into a book to the extent where I can run a vivid movie in my mind as I move my way through the pages. I couldn't do that in Witch King because I had a hard time grounding myself in the story; I was often left confused about what exactly was going on and why exactly it was happening.

While I do ascribe some of these problems to issues with the writing itself, some of the confusion was intentional by the author. Readers who like to feel lost in the narrative, who like to feel uncomfortable with their understanding of what the heck is going on, will like how Wells structures the book. The book occurs across to different time periods - one that would be the "current" time period, while the other is a few years in the past. As the novel progresses, each timeline fills in the small details of the other as the overarching plot slowly comes into focus. Therefore, while I was still often abstracted from what exactly was going on at any given time, I also did start get a better grasp on the world, plot, and characters as the book progressed. If you are someone who likes books like Malazan or A Touch of Light where you are just dropped into a story and told to catch up on your own, you will be delighted by what Wells does here.

There is a similar sparseness to worldbuilding here that Wells also exhibited in her Murderbot Diaries series. While minimal descriptions work in that series of novellas because it is set in a pretty generic futuristic sci-fi setting, here the world is so new and different that I think the book needed to fill things in which just a tad more depth and detail.

Unless you really hate what you are reading in the early goings-on of The Witch King, give it at least 25%. The book has a pretty slow pace overall (mostly because you can feel Wells being very careful not to show her hand too much in any individual chapter), but by a quarter of the way through the novel the plot starts to kick it into high gear and things start to come into focus; by that point if you haven't locked in, then it isn't going to get any better for you.

Because I was struggling to become immersed in Witch King, I had a really hard time really connecting with any of the characters. The main character, Kai, was obviously the most developed, as readers get a clear sense of his complex and often contradictory personalities. He is a demon that (to put it lightly) does a lot of bad things to people, but he also has a clear moral compass, forms genuine relationships with people, and ultimately emerges as a sympathetic character as Wells pushes him into ethical dilemmas and tough corners.

However, I had a hard time making emotional connections with the other characters, even our second main character, Ziede, who got a lot of words dedicated to her character and yet I still had a hard time pinning her down. As you get further and further away from the main characters, the problems only multiply. Other characters, such as the Immortal Tahren play a big role in the book, but whose character is relatively flat and lifeless. Of course, other readers may feel differently and this might just be a "me" problem. Outside of the outstanding Murderbot character, I never really connected with any of Wells' characters in that other series either. I ultimately may just not vibe with the characters that Wells' writes.

Did I enjoy my time with Witch King? Moderately yes. While the pacing was inconsistent, causing my engagement to be inconsistent, the creatively of the book ultimately overcame the other flaws to keep my reading until the very end. But this was the kind of book where I was interested while I was reading it, but I was never running to go and pick it back up.

Readers who like wholly original worlds and like challenging fantasy reads with little handholding will get a lot of enjoyment out of Witch King, but others may want to look elsewhere for your next favorite read. Ultimately, the ideas here are great, but the execution was "only" good.

Concluding Thoughts: The Witch King, Wells' big return to fantasy, is a novel boiling over with creativity in the worldbuilding, but the structure of the book and its inconsistent and slow pacing make the book a bit of a difficult read that is hard to immerse yourself in. I spent so much time trying to situate myself in the world and plot that I couldn't really connect with any of the characters, which was a disappointment. Wells obviously has very real talent (as exemplified in her extensive bibliography), but this is not her at her best. Pick it up if you like wholly original worldbuilding, but otherwise I don't feel this is a must-read.

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I'm not sure what to rate this book. Did I like it? Yes. Was it well written? Yes. Would I continue reading this series? Yes. I just feel like something was missing. Maybe that's what always happens in the first book of a series where your introducing worlds and magic systems. I would definitely read the next book of the series, as this one left me wanting more information about the world, the characters, the history.

The book follows Kai and Ziede who wake up after being betrayed and they have to figure out where their family is and what is going on. They meet some other notable characters that I quite enjoyed, but I feel like we didn't get enough interaction/banter for that true "found family" feel with all of them. You jump between two timelines in the book, and I wish we were just given 2 books with each timeline separated. For me, there wasn't a satisfying resolution of either timeline.

I was really excited to read this, because I've only heard amazing things about Martha Wells' writing and her Murderbot series, and I will probably read those in the near future because I did really like the writing and the characters.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Tor for the ARC!

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What’s your favourite low-stakes fantasy novel?

Well, perhaps it wouldn’t quite be right to call Witch King LOW low-stakes, but if the highest stakes are the end of the world and/or complete and utter destruction of everything as we know it, then, sure, it’s low-stakes. This is a book about going on a rescue mission for your wife and uncovering a conspiracy along the way, a conspiracy that threatens to unravel everything you worked towards and sacrificed for.

By rights, Witch King should be a hit. If it’s not, then something must be very very wrong. Here we have a snarky, morally ambiguous demon protagonist, who can possess human bodies, lesbians who would burn down the world for one another, and a small feral child who ends up being adopted by the group. Tell me that doesn’t appeal to you, go on!

So if you’re looking for the perfect book to round off your May (or start your June, depending on when it might arrive), Witch King would definitely be it.

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Witch King by Martha Wells is a gripping and action-packed fantasy novel that will leave readers eager for more. The book tells the story of Kai, a powerful magic user who wakes up after being imprisoned and finds that the world has changed since he was assassinated. With the help of his allies, Kai must navigate a dangerous political landscape and uncover the truth behind his imprisonment.

One of the standout features of this book is Wells' ability to create characters that readers can't help but care about. Kai is a complex and intriguing protagonist, and the supporting cast is equally well-drawn. The relationships between the characters are also a highlight of the book, with themes of trust, loyalty, and betrayal explored in depth.

The world-building in Witch King is also excellent, with an intricate magic system and a detailed political landscape that is both fascinating and believable. Wells has a real talent for immersing readers in her worlds, and this book is no exception.

Overall, Witch King is a fantastic addition to Martha Wells' already-impressive body of work. It is a fast-paced and engaging read that will leave readers desperate for more. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy, action, and adventure.

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Martha Wells is a legendary author in both the fantasy and science fiction genres. I've been an admirer for a long time and her Books of the Raksura series is among my very favorites. Wells' recent Murderbot Diaries expanded her fanbase exponentially and resulted in an entire new segment of readers being made aware of her phenomenal storytelling prowess. Wells' latest book WITCH KING is her first fantasy release in a decade and I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy from the publisher. Needless to say I was very excited to check this one out and settled in for what I assumed was going to be another cracking story from an author who has wowed me countless times before.

WITCH KING is a book where you are dropped immediately into the story without any context or explanation and you kind of have to piece together the plot as the story progresses. Some people don't enjoy books like this but I actually like this method. It immediately creates a sense of mystery that needs unravelling and as a reader I feel much more engaged as I try along with the characters to work things out. Also the chapters alternate between the present day and an earlier timeline that is suspected will eventually shed more light into what caused things to be where they are in the opening chapter.

This is a slow burn type of fantasy where the action is minimal but when there are moments of conflict they are powerful and leave a lasting impression. There are also many different factions to keep track of whether they be witches, demons who go back and forth from the underworld to the above world, the invading force of Hierarchs, and various leaders of the surrounding kingdoms. So this isn't a light and easy fantasy read by any means. You really have to pay attention the entire time and wade through some stretches where not a lot happens but the dialogue and flashbacks are crucial.

The characters are portrayed in such a way that none of them are really all that likeable and morally gray might even be an understatement in many cases. That being said, the main character Kai is an intriguing one and if you can call a demon charismatic, Kai fits the bill. The whole demon angle is one that I found fascinating as they can only be truly killed in the above world, and if they are they must find another host to occupy if they wish to continue travelling between worlds and maintaining their powers. It really gave this classic epic fantasy an edgy element that made it that much more of a supernatural and mystical read throughout.

In the end I found WITCH KING to be incredibly absorbing and a complex (in a good way) fantasy story. Much like Robin Hobb and Tad Williams' books, Wells takes her time imparting the story but if you have the patience to stick with it the entire way, the reward is well worth it. I don't know if this is a standalone book or will be a continuing series. There is definitely a resolution at the end but it also feels like there may be much more to tell about this world and these characters and I certainly hope that we get to revisit it again. Martha Wells has written a fantasy book that should make not only her devoted fans extremely pleased but also the latecomers to her work as well. Highly recommended for those who enjoy thoughtful epic fantasy with a supernatural twist.

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Witch King was a fun fantasy read with a memorable lead character. I found Kai captivating right from the start, and he held my interest throughout; however, the secondary characters were a little less memorable, or at least less fascinating to me. The story jumped back and forth between past and present. Mostly this was easy to follow, but a couple of times I had to pause to check in my mind what time period we were in. The world building on the whole was good, with a gentle trickle of information as and when it was needed, and that world and its people did capture my interest. The ending was generally satisfying, but there were a few questions remaining which could potentially leave things open for a sequel (and I'd happily spend time with Kai again if that happens). Overall, a solid fantasy tale that gets four stars from me.

(This review will go live on my blog and Goodreads at the links below on 30 May 2023. I will then also share across social media.)

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Thank you so much to TOR for my early review copy!

This book has a lot of elements going for it: the wonderful ideas in its premise, an intriguing main character, competent writing, and a very cool magic system.

That all sounded so wonderful typed out like that, so this is a somewhat lower rating than you might expect, and that's because ultimately I think the story could have been a bit more cohesive. Martha Wells is best known for the Murderbot Diaries, a series of (mainly) novellas (and a few longer books I believe) set in a sci fi universe with humor and unique characters. I've only read the first book in the series, but I loved it, primarily because it had such strong voice and such a tight, coherent story.

This book attempts to cover a lot of ground by essentially telling two stories at once: Kai's backstory as a demon confronting the corrupt powers of his world who are exploiting him and others like him, and Kai's present in which he is escaping from suspicious circumstances and wondering if those same powers have caught hold again somehow and whether he'll have to fight them again.

I originally thought the flashbacks were only going to happen for part of the book, and then eventually the information in them would be resolved in a way that informed the present action. However, that does not happen. The narrative switches back and forth between past and present evenly, and I think that this detracted from my ability to attach completely to either narrative. By continually switching back and forth between two timelines, it's hard to follow the traditional story arc, meaning that all of the wonderful elements I mentioned in my first paragraph essentially felt that they weren't developed or explained enough.

I will definitely read another book set in this universe, and I remain interested in Wells's work.

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An incredible new fantasy from Martha Wells! Kai is a demon who awakens without a body, only to realize he's been buried at the bottom of the sea. It's page 2 before he finds a way out, and his power and wit continue to be demonstrated from there. Every move Kai makes is measured with consideration for his friends and his values, as confused as he may be about what is happening in his world, which has been turned upside down too many times to count. There are dual storylines in this book, and I wanted to stay in each for as long as possible.

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Witch King is the newest fantasy by Martha Wells, who I only know from the Murderbot books. This book follows Kai, who after he was murdered, was confined to a water trap while time continued to pass around him. When he wakes up in a different body, he has more questions than answers. He teams up with his allies in an attempt to learn more but may not like what he finds out.

I was so excited when I got approved for an arc of this. I enjoyed what I have read of Murderbot and I thought that this book would be almost a fantasy version of that. Unfortunately, it’s not. The beginning of this book is very, very dense. There is a glossary at the beginning of the book but having the ebook copy, it was such a pain to flip back and forth. And I don’t like when books depend on you looking at the glossary for context. I like having clues in the book to help figure stuff out and this just lacked in that.

The second half of this book did pick up quite a bit and I really enjoyed that part of the book. But it took so long for me to get there. I almost dnfed this book and at the end of the day, I didn’t enjoy it enough to justify pushing myself through it. I have just loved other books by this author so I knew eventually I would have fun reading this.

Just know going into this book, the physical copy is probably your best bet and know that the beginning is very dense. It’s something that would probably age well with a reread but I just stayed confused through most of it.

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A return to form for Martha Wells, showcasing her ability for creating unique and detailed worlds. The mystery of trying to unravel Kai's past and how it related to his present troubles made me want to keep on reading. This will be a great addition for my library's science fiction collection. It will appeal to the readers that love world-building and exciting, new settings.

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There are elements here that as an avid fantasy reader, I can see the potential of. However, the world building was all over the place and confusing to follow. There were timeline jumps from the present to past events which I have seen done really well, but here it did not work. It almost felt like two different books in a series (and probably would’ve worked better if it had been written that way). Many are going to be drawn to this book because of their love of the Murderbot series and I can’t stress enough how different this is from that. Read if you are really hard up for high fantasy books but skip if you were hoping for Murderbot fun.

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Following a band of unlikely allies tethered together across the past and present, Wells delivers an intricate examination into the lingering echoes of revolution and the ties that forever bind us. A rare high fantasy that establishes its characters and world stage so strongly from its first moments. Accompanied by characters that are wry, a bit cynical, and lovable above all else, prepare to fall in love with this epic fantasy adventure.

My full review will be posted closer to publication.

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I loved the world building but I couldn't connect with the characters. I loved the intricacy of the politics and details, but it was almost too confusing.

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What a great read, with stakes that are just high enough, intricate worldbuilding, and characters that stole my heart. I can understand why some found it too complex/confusing, because of the detailed politics of the world and the shifts between past and present. However, I didn't think it was too hard to follow. I was absolutely swept up by this book, and I hope there's more in store in this world!

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