Today’s review is about WITCH KING by Martha Wells. This is Wells’s first fantasy in over a decade. It features demons, witches, and a float trip on a magicked broken down barge. All this is amidst a who-dunnit murder of the main demon, Kai, and why.
Author: Martha Wells
Age Category: Adult
Publish Date: May 30, 2023
Print Length: 432
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From the breakout SFF superstar author of Murderbot comes a remarkable story of power and friendship, of trust and betrayal, and of the families we choose.
“I didn’t know you were a… demon.”
“You idiot. I’m the demon.”
Kai’s having a long day in Martha Wells’ WITCH KING….
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.
WITCH KING is Martha Wells’s first new fantasy in over a decade, drawing together her signature ability to create characters we adore and identify with, alongside breathtaking action and adventure, and the wit and charm we’ve come to expect from one of the leading writers of her generation.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
The WITCH KING by Martha Wells hints at a promise of political intrigue and mystery as well as action and adventure. It delivers on the former as Kai begins a journey to discover who trapped him and why. However, it flounders on the latter whereby the action and adventure feel more like a lazy river happenstance collision.
The chapters bounce back and forth between the present and Kai’s past. This serves as a way to introduce the readers to Kai’s history and various characters important to the present plot. However, the author’s style is to slowly unfold the world building and cultures as one reads along. Typically I don’t mind this, but I felt the author leaned too much on this technique and thus the story seemed to move along quite slowly. I also found it difficult to retain who was part of which culture and where because of the tidbits released here and there. There were few defining moments that helped my memory pin a certain person or culture to a certain place.
Additionally, the longer I read, the more I realized I wasn’t terribly invested in the characters or the plot. I think the above technique contributed to this feeling. While I don’t expect to connect with every character in every story, I do hope that I can feel something. Instead this story takes place over a relatively short time and it consists of flashbacks to the past coupled with slow-moving, nearly actionless events in the present. The fact that most present-day events take place on the water felt like a metaphor to my mental treading to stay afloat while reading.
However, it was clear that the author spent time worldbuilding off page. There are a lot of cultures, styles of dress, and political histories to keep track of. I feel that if Kai’s adventures had taken place at these various locations, the story would have felt more organic. I found the whole concept of the underearth, a place where demons and witches reside, fascinating. In fact, I loved the beginning of the book during which the reader encounters how and why demons inhabit humans’ bodies. The magic system, which uses “intentions” and “cantrips,” was also interesting, though also under exhibited.
Unfortunately, the WITCH KING by Martha Wells was not a story for me. I also say this as someone who has never read The Murderbot Diaries and thus had no expectations based on that series. Sadly, I was not invested in Kai’s retribution nor the presentation of the political intrigue. However, those who have an appreciation for an unhurried unraveling of the machinations behind Kai’s murder will likely have a better reading experience.
Content warnings: death, blood
Reading format: Kindle e-book