Cover Image: Witch King

Witch King

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Member Reviews

This was my first Martha Wells book and because of that, it was tricky. She throws you in head-first into the complex world and magic systems and expects you to keep up. I personally struggled, though I could tell how rich and thought-out the world-building was meant to be. Keeping tabs on the cast of characters, their roles, and goals was challenging, so I often found myself having to retrace my steps and try to keep notes about the plot progression. While I generally love a long world-building experience and getting to know characters, I don't feel like I ever had the opportunity to *really* get to know the characters or their backgrounds, which made it difficult to root for them.

I enjoyed my time reading the book and I will absolutely read her backlog of books and future works because her writing is spectacular. I have to go with an average 3 stars for this particular one, though, because even after finishing the book, I'm not sure where I land with comprehending the overall story.

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I must say that I adored this book. I adored it. It isn't flawless, which is why I rated it four instead of five stars, but it was enjoyable and very different from what I anticipated. I've been a fan of Martha Wells for a very long time (before MurderBot) and adore the subtle humour and understatement she uses in her works.

First of all, Kai, the main character, is neither a witch nor a king. It resembles a moniker that people have given him. He is both a prince and a demon (of the Middle Eastern sort). He is a necromantic being who can feed on life force, blood, and eventually pain to develop more strength. There might also be a little body snatching involved. He isn't an awful guy beyond that, though. Make no mistake, he is REALLY violent when he decides to use violence. In its essence, this is a tale about Kai trying to discover who buried him in an underwater tomb, which forces him and his allies to wade headfirst through the historical politics. And the politics here are on a Game of Thrones level of evil. I mentioned that was fun stuff.

I heartily thank both NetGalley and Tor books for the eARC of the title. I loved reading this one.

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Witch King is my first read by Martha Wells, and boy can she write. However, as great as her writing is, a lot of this story felt confusing to me.

This may be a 'me' thing, and something that I don't think others will have a hard time with, but there were many times that I was confused who characters were and what exactly was happening. Fight scenes were written vividly, but the good side and the bad started to meld together so I was having a hard time knowing what character I should be rooting for.

This story is not for those who like everything explained as far as magic and the background setting. I still have zero idea how a heart pearl is placed or what it is besides an inner walkie-talkie. I wanted to know more, and I never felt things were fully explained. One thing that I did enjoy though was that sign language was a language used by Witches. With that though, I still didn't understand fully if they couldn't speak and were mute, or just didn't know other languages.

I'm honestly just left torn. I want to say I liked it, but I don't know. I can confidently say the writing is skilled, but there were many moments I felt confused, bored, or both.

So I land in the middle.

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On the surface this should have been a ‘me’ book. It has so many things I love in stories. But I just couldn’t connect with the characters and that hindered my enjoyment of the book. I do plan to read more of this author in the future though.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advance copy in exchange for honest feedback. An excellent fantasy book.

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I loooooooove the Murderbot books so even though fantasy isn’t my usual genre, I was excited to try a new book from Martha Wells. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me but that’s probably more a case of wrong reader than anything about the book - I’m just not a fantasy reader. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free ebook to review.

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Witch King

Kai wakes up in the middle of an attempt on his life. While his attackers underestimate the difficulty of killing a demon, just escaping isn’t enough. With political turmoil at the re-signing of the treaty that made their world, someone wanted Kai out of the picture and the answer may lie in events that occurred a lifetime ago.

Young Kai lost everything when the Hierophants destroyed his home and claimed the land for themselves. His family dead, his connection to the demon world severed, and imprisoned, Kai has almost lost hope when a hostage prince offers him the chance to do the unthinkable- bring the Hierophants down.

Complex and well-thought-out epic fantasy that sometimes bites off more than it can chew, but manages to remain worthwhile.

The jumping between the two plot lines wasn’t always the most balanced and I think this contributed to how long this took me to read. Often I’d be way more invested in either the present or the past and it made getting through the other section frustrating.

I liked a lot of the characters, especially how some of the relationship development that happened between the two timelines is shaded in through context clues and emotion- great showing not telling that made the characters feel real. I liked Dahin for being a belligerent nerd and Sanja for being a sweet, tough, audience surrogate (she’s who needs stuff explained to her, so I’m grateful for that, too). Kai is awesome and well realized.

I wish the political stuff key to the present plot line was explained a little more in depth a little earlier on- by the time I really understood it, I felt like I’d missed a lot, but I liked the book enough to reread it and I think I’ll enjoy the beginning more with this added perspective.

Basically- I liked it. A bit hard to get into but loved the world building, the complexity of the magic and politics, the characters- so it’s worth pushing through. However, I could see this not being the book for someone who doesn’t enjoy dense fantasy. Not something I’d recommend to everyone, but something I would recommend particularly strongly to others.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Witch King would be a fascinating second book in a series, but the glacial pacing and dense flashbacks make it an inaccessible introduction to a new series. The unique beginning really drew me into the story. Kai is the exact kind of chaotic, overpowered character that I love. It is an intriguing approach to set a book after a giant revolution—something that would typically be the central plot of a fantasy book. However, in order to catch the reader up on these events, the book is weighed down by flashbacks and long scenes where the characters just talk about the past. This form of world-building is incredibly intricate and intriguing but far too dense to be an enjoyable reading experience.

I can motivate myself through dense world-building if I have characters to latch on to. Unfortunately, Kai was the only character that really interested me. And even then, the fact that he was insanely overpowered took all of the tension out of the plot. I finished the book feeling absolutely nothing which is particularly frustrating given the complexity of the story. I am really tempted to try this again in a few months after the disappointment has faded because I desperately wanted to love it.

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I know Martha Wells from her masterful Murderbot series, and I had never read her fantasy works. With "Witch King", she's back in the fantasy realm and delivers a well written, interesting novel, though it feels a little pedestrian compared to the storytelling she's shown she's capable of in other works. I enjoyed the characters and the found family aspects of the story, but I found myself forgetting key points while reading it. It held my interest, but just barely. Still, it's a fun fantasy story and there's humor throughout, it's a satisfying read.

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- rating: 3.5 stars
thank you tor publishing and netgalley for the arc!

witch king is a dark fantasy that follows kai, the demon witch king, as he attempts to escape an underwater tomb where his spirit was imprisoned after his mortal body was murdered. when he wakes, kai and his witch friend ziede must figure out who betrayed them…

kai is such an interesting protagonist, and his character was the highlight for me. following a body-jumping, life-sucking demon and reading from his perspective was definitely a unique experience.

i love found family and i liked the idea of this one, with them being a group of unlikely rebels, but unfortunately didn’t think enough time was spent on each of the individual characters. there was such potential but i thought they all could’ve been developed more instead of adding even more side characters. i found myself struggling to connect to them and therefore didn’t feel i experienced the book as i was meant to. i wish we got to know them better.

the first few chapters were definitely hooking, and i really enjoyed the first part. my expectations were built so much at the beginning that i sadly felt let down as i got further in. i became less invested in (and more confused about) what was happening as the book went on, largely due to my not connecting to the characters.

it was written well though and that was something i noticed throughout the book and definitely acknowledge as one of the book's strong points. I'm very curious about martha wells's other works since this was my first, unlike many others as murderbot diaries fans!

overall, while i can appreciate the good elements (including the split timelines of before the assassination and after, the writing, and kai), i don’t think it was the book for me.
saying that, there was still a lot of good in it and i’d still recommend it to others!

reviewed on 9th august 2023.

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This was very different from the past Martha Wells, which can be hard - heading in expecting one thing from an author and getting something entirely different. This would be great for fans of NK Jemisin, deep fantasy dive into a complex world with characters rich in history.

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Atmospheric, sweeping fantasy with intricate world building and complicated, messy characters that carry you through the story kicking and screaming.

It feels like you get dropped right into the world and story, without knowing much. But then everything just comes so naturally from there.

I love stories about demons, Death (personified), reapers, or other creatures from the after life/other world, so as a massive Murderbot fan, I couldn't wait to see what Martha Wells would do with a story like this one and I was NOT disappointed!

Would HIGHLY recommend to any high fantasy fans!

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I enjoyed this book and I could not put it down. I really enjoyed the characters and the writing was really well done. It made you want to keep reading.

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3.5 stars for me! I enjoyed the world building in this book but found the plot slow and almost tedious? This was my first book I read by Martha Wells and I had high expectations as I've heard wonderful things about her fantasy stories.

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I wanted to like this! I was very confused for 1/3 of the book and did not end up finishing it. I kept trying to understand what was going on but I think it just wasn't for me.

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Martha Wells does not hold your hand in "Witch King".

You're thrown straight into the madness and expected to keep on swimming. It's refreshing for some, not for others. I loved it. Throw me into the deep end, Martha, and I'll love you for it.

Be warned, though, Witch King is a challenging book. Like being dropped into an open-world game with no clothes, sword, or shield, the action starts immediately with characters, places, powers, and species all being introduced in a whirlwind. This doesn't happen just once, but once in both timelines. And the pace never lets up — never throws any bones — just expects the reader to retain info and keep up. It makes the book a dynamic and brisk read, but one that demands your full attention. Staying alert is essential.

Kai is a life-sucking, body-snatching demon. He might be close to impossible to kill, and often endures until he is the last being standing. However, when it comes to those he loves he will do absolutely anything for them. Even if that means going to essentially the ends of the earth and battling hoards of opponents to reach them. That’s what the quest is here. Kai is not seeking gold or glory or even vengeance; he just wants to find the missing members of the family he built for himself and reunite them.

There is very little inner monologue from any of the characters, including Kai. He still felt like a mystery throughout the entire novel, even though the entire story was told from his perspective. Everything that was learned about his character, about his inner conflict and his love for his friends and to protect them against all odds, I felt as if I learned from outside observation. When people talk about how an author should “show not tell” in their work, this could serve as an excellent example of an author doing exactly that, with great aplomb.

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

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Kai is a powerful demon who can live inside the bodies of dead mortals. Unfortunately for Kai, the last mortal body he possessed was murdered and he was stuck in an intricate water trap. When Kai wakes, a mage is trying to use Kai's magic. Kai is left to piece together the last moments before his capture. The story is told in the past and the present, leaving readers to solve the mystery along with Kai.

Something about the pacing of Witch King didn't work for me. In theory, jumping back and forth should be exciting. In this case, the story felt disjointed and incomplete. It's also sometimes hard to tell which timeline you're reading. I think other readers will love how challenging the book is, but I picked it up at the wrong time.

The world-building was so-so and the characters had their funny moments, but all in all, Witch King was not for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tordotcom for providing an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Witch King dives straight into a World of witches, immortals, war, politics and demons. I was really captivated by the opening stages of the book and immediately take with Kaii as a character with such humanity, though a demon.

The story is told with a past/present story line and though this is not something I usually enjoy, I did think it was done well and was almost alternate chapters. Of course when the present was getting tense I really wanted to continue with that part of the story and skip the past.

I really enjoyed the snippets we got of the messenger creatures and the relationships of Kaii. I really felt like this was the beginning of a long story, much like the feelings you get when you read The Wheel of time.. everyone is on a journey but not a huge amount is happening. Being a standalone I think the ending felt anti-climatic, though if part of a series it would have definitely paid off more. I did enjoy being in this World, I just felt a bit flat at the end. I would definitely love to explore of this setting with the characters.

Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

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This one was so reminiscent of childhood for me. It reminded me of the games I loved to play.

It was a little slow to get into, but I think I'm a Martha Wells fan now! This is my first by them. But to be clear the story wasn't slow. It dropped you right in which I love, but I just wasn't sure if the story was for me. I pushed through though!

It takes a true artist to write unlikable characters and still have a good book. I'm so happy to have read this and can't wait to continue with their works!

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Kai wakes up in a watery tomb when an upstart poseur magician tries to take his magic. He has no idea how he got there, but he plans to find out. And he's pretty mad when he wakes up. That’s just the beginning as his quest to find answers leads him to forming unlikely alliances to fight a tyrannous kingdom who has taken control over everything that Kai once knew.

Witch King feels epic, yet very personal as it’s through the eyes of an unique viewpoint, a demon who has the power to inhabit the bodies of humans. Demons are not like the Christian concept in this novel. Instead, they are beings who live in the Underearth but are able to inhabit the bodies of mortal, although their eyes are fully black, and they possess unique abilities based on their nature.
So I think they are a very distinct sort of demon. Keep in mind, I am sure that more well read people in this genre may have read more stories with this kind of demon than me. Kai has magic abilities, and gains more when he takes over the body of an enemy.

I really did enjoy this book. But I won’t be dishonest. It was a bit confusing for me. The types of names and the places were hard to keep straight. It didn’t help that I would pick this up and put it down multiple times, as life has not allowed me to have much reading time (and I have so much going on, that it’s harder to focus on a book). It would take me a few minutes to get reoriented when I picked it up again, but I finally decided I didn’t need to pass an exam on what I was reading. Instead I just decided to embrace the experience. Once I did that, it became a lot lower stakes to read it as I could. I was just along for the ride.

I loved that the cultures are modeled after non-European civilizations and there is plenty of diversity (lots of shades of brown and evidence of different ethnicities), along with non-binary and LGBTQ representation.

I really liked Kai. He’s got a very wry sense of humor that I enjoyed. He’s also a complete badass. But he’s not the type whose a bragger about it. He’s just going to do the thing, and hopefully you are not in his way or the person who’s his opponent. I liked the secondary characters. I did get a little bit confused at first on who was whom, but eventually, I got into a rhythm where I was able to read their names and connect the characters to what part they played in the story. I liked how there are different kinds of magical abilities that seem to complement each other. Kai’s ability is very cool and kind of scary, and it gets magnified through different experiences through the book.

I feel like the story starts one way and ends up in an entirely different place, but there is some closure about the initial plot point. The open ending makes me wonder if this would be a series. If it is, I’ll be reading it.

This is not an easy read, in my opinion. It’s going to take some thinking through and focus to read, but it think it’s worth it. I really appreciate Martha Wells’ writing, and I definitely want to continue reading her backlist. I love her sense of humor but also the complexity of her characters.

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