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Witch King, by Martha Wells

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is an entirely new fantasy setting by Wells, and Tor (her publisher) is quite rightly sounding the horns and banging the drums about it. Wells spent twenty years writing mostly fantasy before Murderbot came out, and now she’s right back in the game. This is also a stand-alone. (I can see several of your eyes lighting up with heart emojis from here.)

We’re not in an era where secondary world fantasy really has a mold that everyone else is doing, but this sure is not it. Its protagonist, Kai, whose name is sometimes modified for various informative reasons, is a demon who inhabits bodies that would otherwise decay and rot. Dead people. He pilots dead people around all the time. This is not a book that handles it in a gross way, but it’s sometimes emotionally important whether he’s switched bodies and so on. There are also another couple of types of magic users, and there is quite a lot of conflict among them, who gets to be in power over whom, what things it’s ethical for them to do to each other.

All that sounds fairly abstract, but in the book it’s handled very concretely: there are two timelines, one of which gets you the backstory of these characters and their relationships (both the political and the personal) and the other is–well, they’re both adventure plot, more or less, with a lot of “who are we going to overthrow today and who can we trust” mixed in. It’s not a book with a lot of interiority (a funny thing to say about a book whose protagonist is literally interior to several other people along the way…), but it’s got a lot of interesting moving parts.

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