Member Reviews

this was such a great fantasy novel, it had what I was hoping for from Martha Wells, I had enjoyed the Murderbot Diaries. The characters were what I was hoping for and worked well overall with the story. It had a great fantasy element going on and I enjoyed going through this. I'm excited to see where Martha Wells goes from here.

"Oh.” Dahin looked at Kai blankly. “So is it all right if I sit here?” Kai said, “Yes.” Dahin’s resemblance to Tahren ended at his clothes, hair, thin lips, and sharp features. There was no sense of power from him, no strange current of connection to something on an unearthly plane. He wasn’t entirely mortal, though, Kai could tell. “What are you?”

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This is world-building and high fantasy at some of its finest. Martha Wells managed to create an intricate plot with a lot going on. At times it became hard to follow, even with the reference at the beginning to who's who in the zoo. The nuance is great but not for the faint of heart. I would have liked to see more of the "behind the scenes" feelings and thoughts of our main characters to flesh them out a bit more clearly.

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So much clever worldbuilding, not enough character.

The story starts out with a 'what happened before' scenario with the protagonist entombed, and the plot unravels from there. How did this happen? Who captured the Witch King and why? And who the hell are these characters we're meeting at the very beginning?
All of this is embedded in a very rich world with its very own system of magic, mythology and politics. From the very start I was eager to find the answer to all the questions above and more. And it's very promising that they might get answered in two timelines (past and present).
Unfortunately the book quickly gets deep into exposition of court politics and and introduces a lot of groups and people at once without explaining a lot. This made it hard to follow for me, while on the other hand the characters - who seemed really intriguing in the beginning - are hard to grasp.
So even though the world is really well thought through and like nothing I've ever read, I just couldn't fall into the world and could not go deeply into the characters and their inner life and motivations. For me the book was all description and facts, but not enough emotions and passion.

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Very different from Murderbot, but wow, Martha Wells is one heck of a writer! Spectacular craft in her worldbuilding and plotting. The book starts in medias res and keeps up the pace for pretty much the whole time, which is an impressive feat for a chunky epic fantasy! There's a very large cast but the whole book is centered around Kai, the eponymous (erroneously named, as it turns out) Witch King, and follows him in two timelines as he helps overthrow an empire and then has to deal with the descendants of heroes living long enough to become villains. It's hard to describe what makes the book so good, really, except that it was so impeccably written and I never wanted to stop reading! I was terrified as I approached the end because I thought there was no way to wrap it up in time, but it really is a true standalone. A very fun, tightly plotted book.

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An engaging story from Martha Wells drops the reader in the midst of a complex but unique world featuring political intrigue and a rich history of magical systems. I cared early about Kai and his companions as they sought to unravel one mystery, while another thread of the story took me back in time to show how they first came together.

I found it a bit challenging to get into the book at first, though, due to the complexity of the system and the unique terms and groups described. Even after completing the whole story, I was still unclear about some of the political groups, how they came to be, and how they fit within the entire structure of the world. That said, I found the characters compelling and simply had to know what happened at the end, the writing was excellent, the magic system unique, and I'd happy return to this world created by Wells for more stories.

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Martha Wells spins a high fantasy adventure that grabs your attention and doesn't let go. As a huge fan of the Murderbot series, I was excited to read how Wells was going to create a fantasy world and I was not disappointed.

The reader follows Kai, a demon living in the mortal world and inhabiting the body of a high born family member. Kai was....dead-ish, and now he's alive, in a tomb, and someone is trying to steal his power. That's where we begin and it's a wild ride until the end. The chapters switch between past and present, so be sure to pay attention. I got a little lost a few times, but going back a page or two got me back on track. What I love about Martha's writing, is that she makes the reader love her characters. Kai is a demon, this is very clearly defined, and I still fell in love with his character even with the occasional gore and murder. The found family elements and the very well thought our magic system were icing on the cake for me. I hope this novel is the start to a new series, but the story could be self contained if not. Great book!

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3.5 / 5

Thank you so much for the ARC, Netgalley! As a huge fan of Martha Wells's "Murderbot" series, I was excited to read her latest foray into a more fantasy-flavored story. There's a lot to enjoy here - "Witch King" tells the story of Kai, a demon who is able to possess dead mortal bodies, and his struggle to reunite his found family following a threat on his existence. Yes, there are certain Murderbot-y narrative choices: Kai is deadly and dangerous, but largely a good guy who wants to be left alone. Found family is a BIG theme here. The whole thing has a nicely genderqueer approach, as the soul does not always match the sex of the body. I grew attached to Kai and his friends as they unravel the question of who betrayed them, and why.

So why did this not *entirely* work for me? The worldbuilding was so, so dense. As the first novel in what I assume (?) is a series, "Witch King" does a lot of creating, but I was left with so many questions as I was reading, that the emotional points didn't always land. A lot was not explained. A lot was inferred. And Kai's story is one of those back-and-forth past-and-now-present narratives with every other chapter or so taking place at a different time that I had trouble connecting with the overarching plot. Characters would be reunited and I'd know it was supposed to be an emotional scene, but instead of feeling much I'd go "who is that?" because they had not appeared in the plot yet. Frankly, the past sections versus present sections did NOT work for me. It was like Wells couldn't decide between telling the story of how a found family came to be, and telling the story of the found family going through trauma years and years (centuries?) later.

Still - I DID like this. I was compelled to keep reading. I want to read the next story. Kai is a charming protagonist. But I think I'd have enjoyed this more as a linear tale than what it was.

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I love Martha Wells, I do. And I was really into this book in the beginning. It felt slow for a while there, and I lost interest for a bit, but still well done overall.

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I love the characters this author writes. Murderbot comes to mind with it's super compelling main character and fun, well-developed assortment of side characters. This story is no exception with Kai, a demon. I also liked the way this story alternated between past and present, but every once in a while I had to remind myself what section I was in. I loved the world-building in this book and the pacing was so tight and well done that I found myself flying through this. This was such a compelling work of epic fantasy and I highly, highly recommend this! I can't wait for more in this world and/or more from this author.

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This one sadly just didn't work for me. What I can't get over is just how plot-heavy it is. I don't mind a lot of plot in the SFF books I read, but I do mind when the book is ONLY plot--which felt like the case with Witch King. One thing happened, then another, then another, with very little feeling of how the characters were processing it all or what kind of people they actually were. These kind of breathless books never work me, so unfortunately I didn't end up enjoying Witch King (though I woulddn't rule out checking out some of Martha Wells's other books).

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In the Witch King, Martha Wells throws us head first into an intense epic fantasy, one populated by diverse cultures with different systems of magic. Told in two lines it details how a powerful people called the Heirarchs invaded the lands of this world intent on wiping out or enslaving its people.

Kai is a demon from the Underearth who made a pact with a peaceful nomadic people to experience mortal life in exchange for inhabiting the body of a dying girl. This is considered an honor for the dying person’s family and a way to preserve their memory and continue their line. When the Heirarchs invade, wiping out his entire tribe, Kai manages to escape and will later find himself joining a coalition of cultures intent on fighting back and regaining their world.

The world built by Martha Wells in this fantasy takes a little while to get to know as, rather than large blocks of information, it is gradually revealed through the narrative set in the past and the present. It does take a little attention and concentration to work out who the characters are and what they can do and to keep track of which time line you’re reading, but the reward is well worth the effort.

The characters are all fascinating, particularly Kai, who is hard not to like, even if he is a demon who can drain the life of a mortal in seconds. It wasn’t clear to me why he’s called the Witch King since he’s neither a witch nor a king of witches, except that it’s a name from legend, so maybe this will become clear in a sequel (if there is to be one). Kai’s companion Zeide is a witch who has her own unique magical abilities and together they are looking for Zeide’s wife who has disappeared, and might have been captured herself. Bashasa, leading the band of races revolting against the Heirarchs is also a very charismatic character (and someone I’d love to see more of in a sequel).

Recommended to all lovers of epic fantasy, especially those who enjoy a complex tale of betrayal, revenge and political intrigue wrapped in a creative character driven plot. I hope this is the first of a series as I would love to learn more of this world and what happens next and it will also give me an excuse to re-read this novel, which I suspect I’d enjoy even more the second time around.

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A high fantasy adventure with in-depth and completely original worldbuilding. As with the Murderbot series, Wells showcases realistic, prickly-yet-lovable characters and weaves their stories together with a compelling and intricate plot. Kai, a demon prince, finds himself resurrected and hunted. He must outpace and outwit his pursuers as he travels with allies both new and old to rescue the missing members of his once-found family, and possibly set right the course of history.

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MY REVIEW: 2 Stars

I love Murderbot so much and I thought I would love this just as much, but unfortunately I did not.

I did enjoy the beginning, but it just got confusing and boring to me. I will stick with Murderbot for sure.


*Thank you to Netgalley and Tor for a digital copy of this book!

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I love Martha Wells’ Murderbot series so I was excited to read this new book by her. Lots of folks say her Fantasy books are just as good or even better than the Murderbot Diaries, so my hopes were high.

I did end up enjoying this book. The action was fun and the plot and pacing were good. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the world building elements and I still have no idea how to pronounce many of the place names and character names in this book. I think, for me, an audio version might have been better for this one. I’ll probably do the audio after it comes out, so I can hear what the names sound like.

An enjoyable read that I would read again.

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This was one of my most anticipated reads, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Like many others, I discovered Martha Wells through the Murderbot diaries. I wad so excited to find a new fantasy release by her. I loved Kai and Zaide and the dynamic between them. The jumping timeline confused me occasionally, and it’s definitely a book that requires your full attention.

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From the publisher: After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well. But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence? Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions. He’s not going to like the answers.

I love Martha Wells. It is not an exaggeration to say that her Murderbot Diaries series helped me get through the pandemic with my sanity intact. The Murderbot Diaries is science fiction; Witch King is fantasy. But it is every bit as engrossing, populated with fascinating and fully realized characters. Witch King is a tantalizing glimpse into another world, populated by normal people, demons, witches, and a bunch of characters with confusing titles like Immortal Marshall, Lesser Blessed, expositor, and Hierarchs. So many titles, so many names, so many similar names. This is a fascinating and detailed world, and we are dropped into the middle of a crisis where the main characters don’t even know what’s going on.

The book moves back and forth in time. In the Past thread, aggressors are killing anyone who resists them, including entire cultures. In the Present thread, almost 70 years have passed, and a coalition that defeated the aggressors are trying to find a new normal. Four main characters who are immortal or long-lived appear in both threads.

Did I like the Witch King the first time through? It’s by Martha Wells, so of course I did. However, I also found it a bit frustrating. I found the mixed-up timeline confusing and hard to follow. There are many books where the back and forth works well – Project Hail Mary wouldn’t work without it – but I found it particularly baffling here. Maybe because of the unfamiliar names, places, peoples, titles. There is a helpful list of characters at the front of the book, but I still got confused, especially by Bashat and Bashasa, who are not the same person but are related and carry the same title. It took me a long time to realize that.

When I finished reading Witch King I would have rated it 4 stars, maybe even 3.5. But this is Martha Wells! I can’t have that if I can avoid it! So I immediately reread it. First I read the Past sections in order, then I read the Present chapters in order. I enjoyed the book so much more the second time through and I now give it a solid 5 stars. Maybe just rereading it as written would have had the same effect, but I’m glad I read the timelines in order all the same.

I like the main characters and their relationships, which are deep and need more books to explain more fully. Kai (aka Witch King) is a demon of the underearth, who can step into the bodies of the recently dead and is as close as one gets to being immortal. Still, he is vulnerable to certain techniques.

Wells is clever to call Kai a demon. It sets up certain expectations, expectations that are not met. He actually reminds me a lot of the author’s other big character – SecUnit from the Murderbot series. Kai is a magical being in a fantasy world who wants to help people and, for example, shows concern for a whale enslaved to carry a ship. SecUnit is a being in a science fiction world who is crafted of technology and organic matter and is seen as cargo, property, and a dangerous weapon, when all SecUnit wants it to help people and watch entertainment serials. (Don’t get me wrong – the stories are completely different in most ways. But I think if they met Kai and SecUnit would find they have a lot in common.)

One of the things I like about Martha Wells is that her books are inclusive without being in-your-face-woke. Kai is a male demon who has had both male and female human bodies. In one of the main cultures represented in the book, women wear pants and are the soldiers, and men wear skirts. Two of the four main characters in both timelines are women who are married to each other, and Kai is attracted to men. The fourth main character shows traits we are familiar with – he doesn’t like much physical contact, he doesn’t pick up social cues, his communication is curt and often unhelpful to others – but he is not given a label of any kind. All of this is laid out as a natural part of the narrative and the characters. It’s refreshing compared to some books I have read lately where I imagine the author checking items off a list. (Trans? Lesbian? Gay? On the spectrum? check check check check.)

I do find the title odd, misleading, and inaccurate. Kaiisteron is neither a Witch nor a King. He describes himself as an immortal demon prince. He is called Witch King in legends of what happened in the past (but that almost seems like it is in the story so the book can be called Witch King). If this is not a series, The Rising World seems like a better title. If it is a series, The Rising World series, there still have to be a dozen better titles than Witch King.

Is this a standalone novel? It sure doesn’t seem like it. I hope not. I will read the sequel if one comes along. I read an advance reader copy of Witch King from Netgalley. It is scheduled to be published on May 30, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it in print and as an ebook.

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I want to preface this with the fact that I LOVE the Murderbot series by Martha Wells. Her fantasy didn't hit home as well for me.

The book is told in alternating chapters of the current time period and the past as we follow the life of Kai, a demon. I found the alternating time periods confusing at times and sometimes had to re-read to figure out if I was in the past or not. The characters were well rounded and fleshed out. There were some elements such as a heart pearl that I wanted to know more about. I do think I will read the next book in the series but I don't think I would ask for the ARC this time.

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This turned out to be not to my taste. Lovers of High Fantasy will probably adore this book, but it wasn't for me. Wells is a good writer (I love the Murderbot Diaries and liked her SGA tie-in novels) but for whatever reason, this one didn't grab me.

It's not a bad, or poorly written, book at all, just not for me.

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Wells chose to alternate chapters between past and present timelines, and for me this meant I was most of the way through the book before I developed any connection to the characters, since the "getting to know them" scenes all happened in the past. I think the story would have had substantially more momentum if it had been told with a linear chronology. It was interesting, but disjointed in a way that didn't seem to serve any larger purpose. Not a bad book, but not as good as I was hoping for.

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I requested a digital copy in order to sample the prose on my phone (since I don't have a eReader) before requesting a physical copy for review. My review will be based on the physical ARC I read (if I qualify)

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