Thank you to Tordotcom for sending me a copy of Witch King in exchange for an honest review.
After waking up underwater above his own dead body, it’s safe to say things aren’t going well for Kai. And when he finds out he’s been entombed for a year and his friends have gone missing, there isn’t much in this world that will stop him from tracking them down alive or exacting his revenge.
Witch King is not a book that’s going to hold your hand. Readers start the book just as confused as our protagonist, Kai. After he finds a new body and gets back on his feet, the story splits into two narratives. One is in Kai’s present day, but the other takes place about a hundred years earlier. It takes a few chapters to get used to the back and forth, but Martha Wells wields the dual timelines with skill. I loved the parallels between the past and the present. Each flashback illuminates a little more of Kai’s motivations and decisions. Still, it’s definitely worth referring back to the character guide at the start of the novel. It breaks them up by which time their story takes place in. This helps to anchor the reader within the plot.
Kai is a fascinating choice for a main character. Characters like him often play secondary roles in other books, but quickly become fan favorites. It was fantastic to spend the entire book inside the head of someone like Kai. In the present timeline, he’s dark and bitter, yet still good-hearted. In the earlier narrative, he’s almost wide-eyed, being so new to the world, his power and his potential. One thing that doesn’t change in the decades that pass is his willingness to literally kill for those he cares about.
There’s a particular line that sums up Kai’s personality well, spoken to him by another character; “I’ve always liked your razors, Kai. They’ve cut us out of a number of tangles. But it would be good if one day you could stop bleeding.” The idea of found family and the sacrifices we make for each other is strong in Witch King. Kai collects friends and loved ones to protect and banter with throughout.
One of the most unique and interesting aspects of Witch King is centered around the idea of how history and memory are intertwined. Because he’s a demon, Kai has lived a long life. He’s been around to see entire societies rise and fall. Because most of the people who witnessed major historical events are gone, very few actually know the truth about what happened in the past. There are a ton of really interesting scenes that play out reconciling Kai’s memories versus the stories people tell in the present day.
Witch King is incredibly different from Well’s bestselling Murderbot series, but she writes fantasy just as well. This novel blends fast-paced action and a hard magic system with a ton of political intrigue and betrayal. It’s potentially a standalone, but there’s plenty of room to expand on this world.
Witch King comes out on May 30 and is available for preorder from your local independent bookstore or Bookshop.org.
TW: abduction, body horror, child abuse, colonization, confinement, death, fire/fire injury, genocide, gore, grief, injury/injury detail, physical abuse, self-harm, slavery, violence, war
This review was originally published on 5/24/23.
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