Warner Holme Review: Witch King

Witch King by Martha Wells
Tordotcom, May 2023

Review by Warner Holme: On the question of harder versus softer magic systems, Martha Wells has found a rare balance between the two approaches that is likely to please most readers with this novel, Witch King. This most definitely leads with a fairly magic heavy setting, and those strictly interested in low fantasy may be put off by that, but it is an extremely well-built world in regard to these differences.

Cultural differences, and how imperialism can affect them, add some unusual layers to the book that might not be expected by readers. These are not the primary focus of the book, nor the secondary focus, yet definitely serve as reminders of such issues. Furthermore, once again showing the skill Wells has, such questions do ultimately come into play at certain points in the narrative, quietly slipping into place in the foreground from their status as background detail at the appropriate time.

While the lead, Kai, is undoubtedly the most important figure in the book, supporting characters move in and out of it freely. Some are relatives close or distant of his, others so removed he barely has a conception of what kind of person they might be. While told through a close third person the world is nonetheless made fairly clear and the question of how different some people are from the protagonist is addressed well.

While there is most certainly something of an openness to the ending, the book nonetheless works quite well as a standalone. Major conflicts are resolved, important characters have made progress in their goals beyond what one might expect for a single chapter of a story, and instead merely acknowledging a continuation of events.

There is a deceptive comfortable nature to reading this book. The style of storytelling, even while switching between the past and present, will seem familiar to current readers. At the same time the subtle foreshadowing and clever world building will often only be appreciated not only after the payoff, but a little while later when readers have time to think about these connections.

Fans of Martha Wells should pick up The Witch King and read it immediately. Fans of young adult fantasy looking for something comfortable to read with more depth and impressive construction would likewise do well to grab it right away. To curious parties, it is well worth a read if any of the contents sound interesting.

(Tordotcom, 2023)

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