Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

51xp8g3ow3lWhen an advance reader copy of this book was offered to me, I couldn’t say no. I loved The Goblin Emperor, and this one was pitched to me as a sequel to it. So, I dove right in as soon as I was able.

Thanks to the author, as well as Tor for the review copy!

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honestly will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

This is the story of Thara Celehar, who is a Witness for the Dead. He has the ability to communicate, somewhat, with the recently dead. It helps him to do things like solve murders and bring grieving people closure, and settle wills and the like. After the events that happened to him in The Goblin Emperor, Celehar now lives in Amalo, a city in the provinces, away from court life. He gets himself involved in a will dispute and a murder investigation, and finds an adventure or two along the way.

I wanted to love this book as much as I loved The Goblin Emperor, but alas I did not. Celehar is an interesting character and I didn’t dislike his story. The writing is good, but this one lacks the near overabundance of honorifics and manners that Goblin Emperor had, because it takes place in a different part of the world where those things don’t matter as much. But, all the same, I found myself missing them. It seemed to lack a lot of the unique charm that all of the flowery language and court shenanigans gave the book before it.

I think that it does this one a disservice to market this one as a sequel, even a ‘standalone sequel’ because it gives the expectation that events that happened in Goblin Emperor will be touched upon, or will matter at all. The only thing that makes this a sequel is that it takes place in the same world, after the events of Goblin Emperor, and follows a minor character from it. That’s it. It doesn’t really reference anything that happened in any appreciable way. It’s a character who happened to be in Goblin Emperor doing things in an entirely different part of the world for reasons that have little to nothing to do with anything that happened in Maia’s story. The people who are super excited to read this as a sequel to Goblin Emperor are likely going to be disappointed in it as a sequel to Goblin Emperor.

But, with that all said, if you disassociate this book from Goblin Emperor, forget the word ‘sequel’, forget Maia and all the charm and pomp and circumstance that that book gave you, this is an enjoyable read. It works as a murder mystery. It’s got a slow pace and it often feels like it’s not quite sure what it wants to do, but I still had a good time with it. It meanders between opera murder to ghoul attacks to family estate argument shenanigans and camping out on a hill full of ghosts, and back again… but the adventures it took me on were fun to read about and I did end up liking Celehar as a character in his own world, rather than as a character carried over from an entirely different book that I really enjoyed for entirely different reasons. This book has a charm all it’s own, but it’s not the same charm that you may expect.

All told, this was a solid read, but it isn’t a sequel, and the less you think of it as a sequel, the more you’ll be likely enjoy it. 4/5 stars!~


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