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Witch King

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Kai is a demon from the underworld who inhabits human bodies. He wakes up in a mysterious tomb, clearly the victim of an assassination, as a mage tries to magically enslave him. The story alternates between the present (where Kai tries to find his allies, solve his murder, and acquire a McGuffin) and the past (where Kai initially meets these allies and is involved in large-scale events that form the groundwork of the present story).

I adore Martha Wells' work, including The Books of the Raksura series, so I was excited to see her return to fantasy. The concept sounds amazing, but I found the book so disorienting that, after several chapters, I doublechecked to make sure I hadn't accidentally started with a sequel.

I did enjoy several sections, almost all set in the past, where we learn more about the land Kai is from, his complex family, and the intricacies of inhabiting someone else's body. He's referred to as a "demon", but it's quite a different sort of demonic possession than you might think. There are also multiple interesting magic systems at work. I really, really wanted more of all of this.

The biggest issues are structure and pacing. The story alternates between the past and present with roughly even time to both. In my opinion, it doesn't work here. I think it's because (1) there's no reason for it as far as I can tell and (2) the present is a sort of roadtrip story, and without understanding what the characters have been through, we miss out on so much: the stakes at hand, why the characters are attached to one another, the emotional weight from seeing "familiar" faces, and so on. The result feels like a gimmicky structure that frustrates rather than tantalizes. I found it difficult to tell the past and present sections apart until a side character who only appears in the past or present pops up as a reminder. All this, combined with a pretty slow first half, made the book quite a slog for me. Still, I'm sure that others will love it!

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My thanks to NetGalley for making an eARC of this book available to me.

This was easily one of my top reads of the year. It has interesting and well thought out magic systems and world building, as well as a number of main and side characters who you just want to keep learning more about. The story itself alternates, to good effect, between the current conflict (our protagonist recovering their companions and attempting to figure out why they had been imprisoned) and the past conflict (fighting against the evil invaders). And don't be surprised when you find yourself rooting for the demon (shades of Lois McMaster Bujold's "Penric" series!)

I was hankering for more of the author's Murderbot books when this book came along to leave me conflicted about which series I want to read more of first. That then gives me a chuckle to consider an unlikely crossover between the two series.

I give this a solid 4.5 stars.

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When Kai wakes up in an underwater prison, he’s having a bad day. He’s also dead. Sort of. Kai is a demon, and has the ability to move into a host human body. A lesser mage opened up his prison thinking he could contain him in the host body of a young child and draw on his magic, but very quickly learns Kai’s still very powerful.

Flashback to Kai’s life as Kai-Enna, a young woman from a nomadic tribe about a century ago.
Kai’s people made a deal with the tribe years ago to allow demons to take over the bodies of their dead. They get to keep some of the dead’s knowledge, as well as ally with powerful demon magic users, while the demons get to walk around on the surface world. The Hierarchs arrive from parts unknown, intent on world domination, using methods the rest of the world has no way to fight against, and Kai-Enna’s peaceful life on the plains is destroyed.

The story goes back and forth between the past and the present to explain events in both time periods. We have mysteries in both time periods, such as who killed Kai in the present, and the overall arc about the Hierarchs -- their origin and how they were defeated in the past. While the past and the present are less than a century apart, the history of the war is still at least partly a mystery to those in the present day world that’s still not recovered from attacks that left major cities as empty husks. Kai and some of his allies are nigh on immortal, so they can tell the truth of events, but even they can get things wrong if they didn’t have all the details to begin with due to the fog of war.

I liked the main characters, who hit my “found family” button nicely, and the world building is interesting, but I did feel the ending was abrupt. It’s a complete story in one sense, yet it definitely feels like it’s the start of a series to answer the many questions left at the end. Perhaps it’s intended to be, but the blurb doesn’t mention it (yet)?

ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Excellent world-building and pacing. The switches between past and present are occasionally confusing, but become clear within a page, and draw parallels of recurring and analogous threats, as well as demonstrating the character growth as they tackle challenges in new ways. This could be a standalone or a kickoff to a new series; either way, I enjoyed my visit to this post-apocalyptic fantasy world. Witch King deftly illustrates what the aftermath of wars can look like and what it takes -- and means -- to pick up the pieces when the enemy is vanquished (or is it..?)

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I was lucky enough to be able to read an advance copy of this book which is a new epic fantasy from Martha Wells.

This author has a real talent for writing charismatic main characters (Murderbot comes to mind immediately) and she has done it again with Kai, a demon from the Underworld. Kai has been part of a scheme whereby demons are brought up above to inhabit the bodies of members of high families. This works for both sides as the demons expand their way of life and the family members do not die but do acquire super skills.

The book is written with alternate sections of the past and the present. Each past chapter cleverly feeds information to the reader which is needed to really understand the events of the present time. Staying alert is essential. Once or twice I found myself confused as to whether I was reading about now or then.

A lot happens and it is a very difficult book to put down at all. I found myself completely rapt by the main characters particularly Kai and Zaide. Kai is the born killer you still have to love. Even when he tosses his eyeballs on the floor - you have to read it to find out why - he is still the best. Zaide has some wonderful skills too like controlling the wind and peeling people's skins off layer by layer. These are demons after all.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy. I am not sure if this is a stand-alone or the first book in a new series. The ending, although not a cliff hanger, leaves the way open for more.

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A new fantasy from Martha Wells, in a new land with new characters! I love both the Raksura and Murderbot Diaries series, and was really excited to see what the Witch King was all about. How was it?

Kai-Enna, yet ANOTHER compelling character created by Wells, is a formidable demon with insane powers and a tightly-knit group of very diverse companions who have been mysteriously separated. Kai-Enna wakes up from captivity, and immediately action, magic, and betrayal abound as he travels across land and sea to figure out what happened to them and who is responsible.

The book jumps back and forth between two transformative times in Kai's life (long ago and right now) in a way that slowly introduces you to Kai-Enna and the other characters, as well as to their world and the political intrigue that they cannot seem to escape.

The world building was a bit sparse, That is good as we do not have to slog through the huge infodump that typically bogs down most first novels in series. BUT, I really wanted to learn more more more about the world and everyone's backstory.

I love Kai-Enna, Zaide and Tenes, and loved learning more about everyone and everything as the story unfolded. Wells consistently creates imperfectly perfect characters that you can't help but adore. Hopefully, this is a series, but it might be a standalone, who knows?

Overall, 5 stars! I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am eagerly awaiting word of more books to come in this series.

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I really wanted to love this but I found the worldbuilding and plot confusing. It just never captured me.

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My thanks to NetGalley and Tor for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I've followed Martha Wells for years and was excited to read her latest work.

This is the story of the demon Kai and his closest friends and comrades in arms, alternating between a mystery attack in the present and in the past Kai's rise to power fighting against a brutal genocide. In the present, Kai awakens from an unknown prison as a sorcerer attempts to enslave him. Kai spends the rest of the book rescuing his friends and figuring out who betrayed them and why. In the alternating chapters, we see how Kai first comes to the mortal world, survives the massacre of his people, is captured and tortured (not-graphic) by the enemy, and is drawn into an alliance of nations to fight back led by a charismatic man who has some romancey-vibes that are kept platonic enough to render this story asexual (or at least ace-friendly).

As with every story ever written by Martha Wells, its greatest strength lies in making you fall in love with the characters and rooting for them. As for originality, Ms. Wells is starting to fall into the trap of repeating her characters. Kai is essentially Moon from the Tales of the Raksura series; he's an all around like-able, slightly sarcastic, good guy who just wants to live his life surrounded by his loved ones, and can't conceive of being anything but a gentleman. The resemblance was so complete I kept expecting Kai to have wings. This story was very plot-driven, and would have been even better if it had more moments of taking a break from the action to just let the characters have some more page time just being with each other.

This novel did have a very big problem with pacing. The first 40% of the book was pure torture to read. It was incredibly dry, slow, and filled with emotional angst that didn't work if you didn't already know the characters' backstories and care about them. The next 20% of the story started to get a little better, and the last 40% was a complete page turner I couldn't put down.

Part of the problem was the alternating time lines - in theory this works, but the present timeline should be more interesting than the past, and that was far from true here. In the past, Kai and friends go through the epic ups and downs of war, the bonding that comes from shared captivity, and the hope of having a fighting chance. The present tense was a slow who-dun-it that mostly involved a lot of boat travel occasionally broken up by pursuit. Each chapter was good about ending on a cliffhanger to make you keep reading, but then it switched to the other storyline, killing the momentum. It's hard to read a 500+ page book in one sitting, so when picking it up again, it was hard to remember which timeline I was reading.

The beginning few chapters felt much more unpolished than the rest of the book. There were some minor mistakes the ground my nerves (the first boat was identified as a large galley with three masts, but galleys are small boats with one mast. Galleons have three.) There were a few small type-os as well in the first few chapters.

One more thing that disappointed me with this novel was a missed opportunity to go beyond some stereotypes that were missed. Kai and his species identify as demons, but they're not demons in the traditional Christian mythology sense, more like guardian spirits than bloodthirsty monsters. I think plenty of other cultures have closer matches for these entities than Abrahamic religions, but demons are the most recognizable, and therefore easiest to sell, term.

Overall, I hope the final release of this book reworks the beginning a bit so it's not so difficult to get into, because it really is worth the wait.

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To rate 5 stars from me a story has to be mind and/or life altering. This was really really good. So much goodness!

Things I loved: Kai, Zaide, Bashasa, the stakes, the world building, most of the secondary characters. The young uncertain Kai versus the badass world weary Kai.

Things I didn't love, but admired - the story's structure. It's told weaving back and forth across two (three? -- if you count Kai's "childhood" before the Hierarchy arrived) time periods. Each was so damned interesting I didn't want to go leave the time I was in to go back to the other one - which I hadn't wanted to leave before! The staggered storytelling reveals different information that informs the upcoming sections, so I get that it is necessary, but... I just inhaled this book. I think I would have read faster if I hadn't been so invested that I was jarred most every time the changes came and had to take a mental step back!

I am now dying for the next book in the series. How did the war against the Hierarchy unfold? How did they win their freedom? Thank Gods they did! Spoiler, though not really (view spoiler)

Ms. Wells, may I say, that while I wish you could write your epics faster, you keep doing what works for you. I will gratefully and happily enjoy the results! Thank you!

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"The Witch King" is an epic fantasy novel with magic, underworld denizens, witches, conquerors to be vanquished, traitors to be rooted out, resistance to be led, desperate battles against impossible odds, friendship 4-EVER, and the work of building a new world when the old has been swept from under everyone..

I pine for the next one already.

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