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The Witness for the Dead
A Book Review of the novel by Katherine Addison
The Witness for the Dead is the first novel in a new series by Katherine Addison. The series takes place in the same universe as The Goblin Emperor but focuses on another character and another city. Although Goodreads says that the book is a standalone sequel to The Goblin Emperor, that information is out of date as Amazon is already listing book two of the series under the title The Grief of Stones.
I decided to read The Witness for the Dead because I wanted to read more about the The Goblin Emperor universe before I forgot all of the characters’ names. In both books, the characters’ names are all over the place and extremely hard to remember (if you don’t believe me, check out this glossary of names and places https://the-goblin-emperor.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Character). It’s so bad that I actually had to lookup the main character’s name in The Witness for the Dead to write this review because I’d already forgotten it. Also, my efforts were wasted because none of the characters, except the aforementioned main character Thara Celehar, from The Goblin Emperor reappear.
Thara Celehar is a witness for the dead — a person who has the power to hear the voices of the recently dead. Celehar is not all powerful, his abilities are limited and he can only commune with the dead through skin-on-skin contact. A witness for the dead is implied to be a member of a religious order, but the details of the religion are still unclear. One of Katherine Addison’s skills as a fantasy author is that she doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too much information all at once, but instead slowly builds the world. One consequence of this writing style, is that there are many unanswered questions, especially concerning lore and religion.
While The Goblin Emperor takes place in only a few rooms, the world in The Witness for the Dead is vast. The Witness for the Dead continues the world building of The Goblin Emperor but instead of “talking” about places and cultures, we get to see these places and cultures as our main character travels around the world. The book mostly takes place in the streets of Amalo, but we see other locations, including a nearby village where Celehar travels to fight a ghoul.
Unlike The Goblin Emperor, this book is written in the first person instead of the third. The writing doesn’t feel as heavy as The Goblin Emperor because Celehar is not as weighed down by politics and bureaucracy. Instead, the book reads like a mystery novel. As a witness for the dead, Celehar is responsible for investigating the deaths of people who have died under mysterious circumstances. In this book, Celehar investigates the deaths of two women, one who was poisoned and one who was pushed into a river. Since his powers only give him small insights into the past of the recently dead, Celehar acts more like cop by asking questions and piecing together clues.
If Celehar could fight, this book would be a lot like The Witcher. Like The Witcher, a lot of things happen to Celehar but there is very little character development. Instead we simply learn about Celehar’s motivations and background. Also, the stories and mysteries feel episodic because plot lines arise and are concluded quickly and concisely.
Mystery is not generally my favorite genre but I enjoyed this book because I wanted to know more about Addison’s world of ghosts, ghouls, and magic. The story feels medieval yet futuristic; I’m excited for book #2.
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Conservation Society of Medieval Whale Architecture (CS-MWA):
3.5/5 Whales. An enjoyable tail.