Witness for the Dead – Katherine Addison

“In the jumbled darkness of the catacombs beneath the city of Amalo, there was a shrine to Ulis in his aspect as god of the moon.”

Witness for the Dead is a story set in the same world as the excellent The Goblin Emperorbut while it is billed as a sequel, you don’t have to have read TGE first. I did reread it, of course, and was very pleased to do so, but as it turned out there are only a few vague references in this volume. Oh, and the main character did have a big role to play in the first volume, so it’s nice to meet up again with Thara Celehar, the titular Witness for the Dead.

The other difference here is that it’s told in first person, as Celehar investigates several mysteries in the scope of his job. There are a couple of murder mysteries, and several other tasks taking his time, including laying a ghoul to rest.

The interweaving of the different plots has the odd effect of making the story feel very real and rich, while at the same time very nearly diluting the impact of any single one of them. That’s not a complaint, it ties back very well to my opinion of the first book that it felt sort of slow and un-actiony, while at the same time being such rich world-building that completely draws you in so you don’t really miss the big ‘punch’ factor.

So the story is a cross between the fantasy layer – a world of elves and goblins (much allegory on race, methinks) where some people can literally talk to the dead – and a detective story. Given the former, it’s a very down to earth kind of detecting. Celehar discovers a missing dead woman by spending his evening walks trailing through cemeteries reading headstones – sheer dogged determination, nothing flashy or ‘magical’ or anything like that.

The rest of the story includes some politics of the religious order he’s part of, lots of trauma from his past – that was touched on in TGE – and a few other characters’ with their own issues. As I said, it’s a very ‘real’ kind of a mix and pace, juxtaposing very well against the fantasy elements.

Very worth a read, even if you haven’t read TGE, and in some ways may actually be a better starting point if you’ve not yet dipped a toe into the somewhat unfamiliar kind of pace and storytelling of this world. Personally, I love the reread of book one, and then the chance to revisit this world especially from a less courtly viewpoint, and I just hope there are a lot more stories to come.

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages
First published: 2021
Series: Goblin Emperor book 2
Read from 17th-23rd June 2021

My rating: 9/10

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