The Witness for the Dead

- Katherine Addison

Goodreads Book Blurb:

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 to 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.

Series / Genres:

My Review:

solid, good read:
The Witness for the Dead is so different to The Goblin Emperor it seems crazy they’re part of the same series. Sure, the main character here, Celehar, appears in the first book (barely), but he’s the only constant. Even the writing is entirely different! I’m sure this is why it took me longer to get into the story than it should have – I just wanted more Maia – but once it clicked in place, I loved it.

The characters are complex and interesting, as are the rules and expectations of this society. Celehar’s job is unique to anything I’ve read in fantasy before, and I loved exploring his world. There appears to be a type of police force, but it seems up to Celehar to do all of the legwork to find clues and make connections to figure out who committed this murder. He’s almost independent of any authority, yet others easily force him to do any required work.

I didn't know any of the Orshaneise meditations, but after a while I found I was saying an old Ulineise prayer under my breath, a prayer that asked for quiet—for peace and for silence—and itself twisted and turned around the line strength in tranquility and tranquility in strength. I'd always understood 'strength in tranquility' and taken 'tranquility in strength' to mean that if one was strong, one could make the tranquility one needed. But now, twisting and turning through the corn maze, I began to see it differently, that 'tranquility in strength' meant having the strength to keep one's tranquility of mind, no matter what the world brought. It meant being tranquil—peaceful—even when one was strong, not bullying or picking fights.

Addison has a proven track record in this series of writing unassuming, gently kind characters. Even though Maia and Celehar are totally different, it’s wonderful to have two characters who embody such enviable characteristics differently. Not everyone has to be evil and self-serving to create an interesting story. Celehar is sweet and gentle – his job somehow fits him perfectly but seems the strangest occupation for his temperament. His open and understanding nature would make him the perfect witness for the dead, but the detective work (not to mention the ghoul hunting) seems outside his capabilities. Though he stumbles and is awkward at times, Celehar plods along (a bit like Eeyore), always picking what is right over what is easy. This keeps him on the right path, but it doesn’t always keep him happy or comfortable.

"I do not mean that thou'rt careless, Thara, for thou art not. And thou wouldst never endanger another soul. But thou carest not whether thou wilt live or die. I fear for thee."
"Thou needst not," I said. The blush was scalding in my face. "I have no desire to be eaten by a ghoul. I promise thee I will be careful."

There were a few strange tangents with ghost walks to prove innocence, political drama that wasn’t fully explained, and explosions that forced unnecessary trauma and overwork. Similar to The Goblin Emperor, it did feel that it took too long to get invested in the story, only for it to end suddenly – but this is an excellent way to get people to read the next book in the series, even if they’re not entirely related. Overall, though, I really enjoyed The Witness for the Dead – I only wish we had gotten to see Maia again. The trouble here is, when the third book comes out, I don’t know if I would rather have more about Maia or Celehar… If we get a completely new protagonist, though, I don’t know how I’ll cope with that.

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Other Books in this Series (CEMETERIES OF AMALO):

Other Books in this Series (GOBLIN EMPEROR):

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