Witch King by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm a Martha Wells fan because of the Murderbot series, but she has written fantasy and epic fantasy for decades. (I also have the complete Books of the Raksura collection.) This book is a secondary-world fantasy with some truly excellent worldbuilding. The world is layered and complex, and Wells is expert at doling out only the information needed to understand what is going on at specific points in the story. The background and exposition never bogs down or detracts from the overall tale.
The titular Witch King, the demon Kaiisteron, is abruptly awakened after the death of his current body and needs to find a new one. (Just trying to write a synopsis of this book is difficult, because this world is complicated. It makes me appreciate what the author did all the more.) He takes over a recently deceased body, fights his way free of the watery tomb where he was imprisoned, and is thrust into a world of competing human/demon/Witch factions fighting for control.
There are two storylines here: one in the present of Kai's awakening, and one in the past which reveals the history of many of the primary players. Both storylines are equally compelling and converge in the final chapters. Kai is hardly the typical evil, blustering sort of demon: he is vulnerable and often unsure of himself, especially as he is thrust into new bodies and has to figure out how to use them to help his friends. We see everything through Kai's tight third person point of view, but the supporting characters are well drawn and interesting, especially Bashasa Calis, the driver of the "past" storyline.
This book is a slow, compelling burn, in story, characterization and worldbuilding. It requires a bit of patience in the early chapters, but it is worth it as everything comes together beautifully in the end. This is also a fairly self-contained story, although there are enough dangling threads to warrant a sequel. I hope it gets one, because above all else, the worldbuilding is fantastic.
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