The Witness for the Dead

Author: Katherine Addison

My rating: 4.8 stars

Working with & speaking to the dead is not a job anyone wants to do, but Thara Celehar considers it his calling and his duty. Able to commune with the dead, Celehar’s skills are often called upon to determine causes of death and to find answers to questions often taken to the grave.

The Goblin Emperor began with a bang. Your father died, you’re now the emperor. That’s a hard beginning to compete with. The start off here isn’t as flamboyant. It’s steady and demure, much like the main character himself.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read the Goblin Emperor, so reading this book felt a bit confusing to me at first, given the vast quantity of foreign sounding names and numerous religions and cultural references. I never fully grasped them all in the Goblin Emperor. I mostly let them fly over my head. There’s a vast depth of cultural development in this world, and there’s probably an anthology or the like somewhere to explain it all for those interested, but I’m not detail oriented in that way. As long as the details aren’t integral to the plot, I’m fine with understanding less than half of it. But that’s just the religious and cultural and social etiquette details. The story itself winds and flows clearly, and is easy enough to follow if one ignores the surrounding noise. (There are like hundreds of different religious sects, for example. No way am I memorizing which was which.)

I don’t mean to imply that all the foreign terms were overly confusing. It just takes some getting used to. By the time you get several chapters in, you end up thinking in the same patterns as the characters speak – lots of third person usage and other formal manners. It’s extremely immersive in a good way.

Should one read the Goblin Emperor before this book? It would help. There are some parts that were clearer to me after I began rereading the Goblin Emperor while I was in middle of this book. (That was fun in and of itself.) But it’s definitely not necessary. This is a separate story. Distinct from its sister book, focusing on a side character with barely any references to the events that took place in the other book. If you haven’t read The Goblin Emperor, I strongly recommend doing so. It’s so worth it on its own merits. But feel free to jump into reading these books in any order.

Celehar is a man who would rather talk to the dead than to the living. Not because he’s unfriendly, but because he’s quiet and reserved. He always presents an impeccably polite facade to everyone, whether he wants to strangle them or whether he’s uninterested in their company. He’s a nice sweet guy, and he is extremely thorough at whatever task he’s called to, persevering no matter how complicated the task or how many dead ends he faces. His job brings him in close contact with corpses. His superiors hate him for political reasons, and most other people aren’t keen to befriend him. But everyone knows which door to knock on when they need his services.  His job brings him to meet many types of people, from the worst degenerates to simple factory workers. The plot weaves between several small mysteries and subplots, each one interesting in its own way, from contested wills to murderous ghouls.

This book doesn’t have a world saving hero, doomsday prophecy,  wicked witch, or other fantasy cliches. It simply follows the life of one man, and the repercussions his small actions have on society. You would think that would be boring, but this book is an immersive experience and a wonderful character journey, with in depth world building & complex characters. It’s simple and sweet and leaves the reader feeling peaceful and satisfied at the end, like most “feel-good” fantasy.

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