Witch King

- Martha Wells


A story of power and friendship, of trust and betrayal, and of the families we choose.

“I didn’t know you were a… demon.”
“You idiot. I’m the demon.”

Kai’s having a long day in Martha Wells’ Witch King….

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

But why was Kai imprisoned in the first place? What has changed in the world since his assassination? And why does the Rising World Coalition appear to be growing in influence?

Kai will need to pull his allies close and draw on all his pain magic if he is to answer even the least of these questions.

He’s not going to like the answers.



Waking was floating to the surface of a soft world of water, not what Kai had expected. Reaching out in that darkness, he found a cold, black sea ebbing and flowing, dropping away like a tide rolling out.


* Thanks to NetGalley and Tordotcom for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided. *


Kai stepped close, circled to face his prey, and wrapped his hand around the ghoul's throat. "Do mortals just walk into your charnel house all the time? Am I one? Am I stupid?"
The ghoul choked out, "I didn't know you were a..."
"Say it." Kai smiled.
"...a demon."
"You idiot." Kai leaned closer, "I'm the demon."

While I ended up being very invested in this world and these characters, I almost DNFed Witch King many times within the first half. The only reason I didn’t is because I’ve been enjoying the Murderbot Diaries so much, and I couldn’t comprehend the disconnect I was feeling. Sure, they’re different genres and characters and stories, but the writing itself is so entirely different that I wasn’t ready to give up in hopes that it would improve.

I had to have checked at least five times to be sure I wasn’t missing some context. Witch King starts in such a way that it assumes you know these characters and this world. I was so lost, and it took longer than it should have to sort out the characters and what was going on. I’m still not convinced that Witch King isn’t part of a series or based on a world created in another series by Wells because it seems crazy how little information we are given to orient ourselves and understand what is happening.

I wanted to love Kai and Ziede and so many of these other characters, but it often felt like Wells was going out of her way to prevent a connection from being formed. Any time the characters get close to revealing, emotional discussions, they back away and say ‘it’s too much’ or ‘not now’ and it’s all shut down. Even the relationship between Kai and Bashasa, one of the most intriguing dynamics, is implied rather than revealed. I had to make assumptions about this relationship based on hints about what they meant to each other in the present, long after Bashasa’s death, rather than anything that was admitted or advanced in the past. It was honestly so frustrating. Whenever I wanted more, it was denied, but sure, here’s another long, complicated political discussion about factions I don’t understand with no context.

If this was the start of a series or a continuation of one, I think Witch King would be much better. But as a standalone with no context clues and a lot of unfulfilled promises, I was left wanting a lot more.

Kai let his breath out in an uneasy hiss. He didn't trust easily, something he felt was validated every time some supposed ally murdered him and stuck him in an underwater vault.



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