The Witness for the Dead, by Katherine Addison

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Publication date – June 22, 2021

Summary: 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 honesty 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.

Celehar’s skills now 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.

Thoughts: Side-story to The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead centres around one of the previous novel’s secondary characters: Thara Celehar, a prelate of Ulis and Witness for the Dead, meaning he can experience the last moments of a person’s death if he touches their body. Celehar would rather be out of the spotlight than in it, which is why he makes for such an interesting protagonist in this short companion novel to The Goblin Emperor. Don’t get me wrong, protagonists who throw themselves headlong into adventure are fun and all, but it’s always interesting to me when a book centres on someone who would rather just be left alone.

Life, however, doesn’t want to leave Celehar alone. Poor bastard.

Taking place shortly after The Goblin Emperor, Celehar now lives in Amalo, still following his calling. This involves a variety of duties, including investigating murder. So when Arveneӓn Shelsin, an ambitious opera singer, is found dead, and Celehar confirms that she was indeed murdered, the race is on to not only find the murderer, but to uncover why they killed in the first place.

Celehar’s reluctance to engage with a lot of the world is, as I mentioned, an interesting move. It’s not something that could work for everyone, but Addison manages a good balance between showing Celehar’s introversion and actually putting him in positions where he can do some good in the world. Celehar is very relatable for me in that way. Except that I don’t have any abilities or callings that would make the world a better place, the way he does. It’s admirable, though, that even though Celehar would rather be left to his own devices, he doesn’t shirk the responsibilities that come with his calling. He might not be happy about things, but he’ll do what he feels drawn to do. More characters like this, please!

Addison’s detail-oriented writing style makes for an excellent murder mystery, that’s for damn sure. While The Goblin Emperor did have some mystery to it, at its heart it was about Maia settling into his new and unexpected role and the emperor, and all that entailed. The Witness for the Dead shifts the tone and setting away from political intrigue and a fish-out-of-water/coming-of-age story, and into a situation where a man must solve a murder in order to lay the victim’s spirit to rest and give them a proper funeral. Such a simple thing in theory, but it becomes so much more complicated when Celehar must risk offending some very powerful people, and sort through layers of potential motivation for the kill, in his mission to bring about justice for Arveneӓn.

Honestly, I think Addison has a knack for writing a good solid mystery, and I’m here for it. Her world-building is brilliant, rich and realistic, and it’s a wonderful setting for any number of mysteries. I’ve found in recent years that I have a bit of a soft spot for fantasy mysteries, so it’s no real surprise that I enjoyed The Witness for the Dead as much as I did. If you have similar weakness for fantasy mysteries, or you just enjoyed The Goblin Emperor, then I highly recommend giving this novella a go. It’s not very long, but it packs a punch, and is a wonderful companion and spin-off to the main book. Celehar is a character I absolutely love reading about, and will be quiet happy to do so more in the future.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

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