#WyrdAndWonder Review | The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

The Witness for the Dead
by Katherine Addison

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.

My Rating:

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I received an eARC of The Witness for the Dead from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s no secret that The Goblin Emperor is my favourite novel, so when I heard the news that Katherine Addison was working on a new book set in this world I was a little nervous but, ultimately, so excited—even more so when it was revealed it wasn’t going to be a direct sequel, because The Goblin Emperor is perfect as it is. Instead we follow Thara Celehar, our titular Witness for the Dead who worked for Maia in the previous book to help him discover who murdered his father and brothers, this time as he embarks on his preferred work, helping those who lack the funds and prestige of those at court.

The Witness for the Dead is an odd novel in some ways, and parts of it reminded me of Addison’s other novel, The Angel of the Crows, because this novel feels more like several novellas put together rather than one whole novel. Having said that, it definitely feels more like a novel than The Angel of the Crows did (thankfully, because I didn’t actually enjoy The Angel of the Crows very much!) and the various crimes and events Celehar finds himself getting involved in weave in and out of one another, rather than simply happening one after the other. What I’m trying to get at is that The Witness for the Dead is a very quiet and in some ways cosy novel, not unlike The Goblin Emperor, so if you’re craving more fantasy where the fate of the world isn’t at stake and the focus is on one character’s relationship with the world around him, and the people in it, then this is a book for you.

You could read this novel without first reading The Goblin Emperor, but you’ll get much more out of The Witness for the Dead if you read The Goblin Emperor because you’ll learn Celehar’s backstory; why he lives the way he lives and distances himself from others the way he does.

As a Witness for the Dead, Celehar can essentially read cadavers and human remains to find out what the dead experienced in their last moments and, if foul play was involved, find out who killed them. A kinsman of the previous emperor’s empress, Celehar lost what little favour he had when he agreed to work for Maia, who in return released Celehar from the court to return to the kind of work he prefers. Now in the city of Amalo, far from the emperor and his court, the novel opens with Celehar being asked to attend upon the body of an elven woman that has been pulled from the river. Any thoughts of her death being an accident or suicide are put aside when Celehar discovers a wound on her head.

What follows is a gentle story of Celehar trying to find justice for a woman he comes to discover wasn’t a particularly nice lady, and some of the other jobs he is given or accidentally falls into along the way, but the novel’s main focus is on Celehar himself. He’s a somewhat tragic figure, someone who hasn’t been shown as much kindness as he deserves, and in The Witness for the Dead we slowly start to see him open up to other people and make friends—and a hint that, maybe one day, he might allow himself a second chance at romance, too.

This is a difficult book to review because it’s not really a plot-heavy novel and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience by accidentally giving something away, but just know that I loved reading it. I loved being back in this world, and seeing a different part of it—not only geographically, but also in terms of the class of people we meet. The entirety of The Goblin Emperor takes place at court, surrounded by noblemen and noblewomen, whereas Celehar associates with other members of his religious order, factory workers and performers at an opera house, just to name a few. Addison’s writing is beautiful, her characters all have such stage presence, regardless of how long we meet them for, and while the mysteries themselves aren’t exactly shocking or full of twists and turns, it’s Celehar’s determination to find the truth, above all else, that makes this book impossible to put down.

23 thoughts on “#WyrdAndWonder Review | The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

  1. Louise says:

    I just finished reading this and ran right over to read your review (I’d been holding off reading anything about it in advance). You make a lot of good points, and I think I’d echo you on everything, right down to your rating! Brilliant review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I did so enjoy this, though stupidly gave away my copy after not realising I’d soon to wanting to read it again. But thanks for this review — I do like novels which revisit a secondary world but approach it from a different direction — it somehow makes that world more ‘real’ by giving it a different perspective, either from a different character’s point of view or from somewhere else in time or geography. https://wp.me/s2oNj1-maia

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jorie says:

    Hallo, Hallo Jess,

    I ought to remember why I haven’t read The Goblin Emperor but for the life of me I can’t remember — it might be a CW/TW issue or something else completely. I struggle to find stories I can sink my teeth into when it comes to adult Fantasy but this year, throughout Wyrd And Wonder, I decided I wanted to read more blogs and especially the reviews of stories that may not be my personally cuppa but will give me a keen insight into the Fantasy stories everyone else is wickedly happy to be reading themselves. That’s the beauty of book blogging for me – reading everyone’s reactions and even on the stories I can’t read, I get to gleam a bit out of someone elses reading experience.

    I’ve decided since this is a Cosy Fantasy murder mystery that I need to read this one myself! I found out my library has placed an order for it and I’m first in line to borrow!! Thank you for explaining the differences between the books and if this is the only one I can read by this author/series, at least I get to see a bit of the world she’s created. I personally LOVE forensics and murder mysteries – I love reading dramatic Crime Fiction – Cosy Crime (which I consider something betwixt and between hard-boiled, police procedural and Cosy), Cosies, Suspense & Thrillers. I tend to read more Historicals than Contemporaries but I can’t remember the last time I read a SpecFic Cosy Crime novel! There was that novella “Murder in the Generative Kitchen” which I adored but for Fantasy!? Its been a long while… so thank you!

    Not sure if this will reach me by the end of Wyrd And Wonder but will remember to loop back and give you my thoughts either way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

      Hi Jorie, thanks so much for stopping by! I totally agree with you – the book blogging world would be so boring if we all thought exactly the same thing about the books we read.

      If you’re into cosy mysteries then I definitely think you’ll enjoy this one! It does, of course, have its darker moments – hard not to when it’s about murder! – but it’s ultimately a lovely, gentle story. I’d love to know what you think of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rabeeah says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this book, now I am even MORE excited to read it! A gentle journey about an interesting character sounds exactly like the vibes I want as a Goblin Emperor fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    Ohoh, this is the first review I’ve seen of this book! I only read The Goblin Emperor for the first time last summer. I certainly enjoyed it but it’s not an all time favourite for me. I can imagine it would be hard to follow up on the magic of that book, though, so it’s nice that you were able to enjoy this one.

    Liked by 2 people

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