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Fantasy Friday – The Witness for the Dead

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD is a fantasy mystery, set in the world Addison created for THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. You don’t need to have read that first, although it does explain the society and introduces the concept of the Witness for the Dead. The main character here is a minor one in that book. But no matter, if you haven’t read it, you’ll catch up fast. Witness for the Dead is a job description, a religious calling, and those who answer it have the ability to sense a recently dead person’s last thoughts and experiences.  This is a society of goblins and elves, who intermix and intermarry although some prejudice does occur.

Thera Celahar is a Witness, but he’s had some setbacks. He’s not the most self-confident goblin in the world due to a mistake in his past, but if he’s given his word to help he will do so, and he never gives up. He doesn’t lie for political expediency and he will find a way to (softly) speak truth to power. And so, he’s run afoul of higher-ups in several different areas and has been sent away from the emperor’s court to the city of Amalo. He’s content here.

An elvish woman has been found, presumably drowned, with no identification. Celahar is called to see if he can find out who she is, so she can be decently buried with the appropriate rituals. But all he can tell from her last memories is that she was murdered. Now it’s his job to investigate who she was and what happened to her.  Along the way he’ll get into the midst of a family quarrel about a forged will, have to subdue a powerful ghoul, find a serial wife murderer, comfort the dying after an airship explosion, and undergo an ordeal.

This is a wonderfully rich imagined world with excellent characters and great imagery. Slightly steampunky – there are airships, but don’t seem to be any other motorized vehicles. Great details, right down to the stray cats. Celahar himself is very interesting – dedicated, honest, and compassionate but also astonishingly self-effacing and lonely. Why that is will slowly and quietly come to light, in fact if you read too fast you might miss it.

The mystery of who killed the elvish woman is excellent as well – we get to watch Celehar slowly and painstakingly track down clues, question those who knew her, and build up a picture of who she was and why she was killed.

My only complaint is the one I had about the previous novel – the language. I sure wish I’d remembered the glossary in my copy of the previous book. All the names are multi-syllabic with a lot of Cs, Vs, Zs, and Hs. I had trouble even mentally pronouncing them and eventually my eye started to slide past, which obviously then gave me difficulty distinguishing between characters. Plus there’s a lot of dialect  for daily items like food and so forth, which also slowed me down. But in the end, it’s minor.

Lovely book. Highly recommended for those who like fantasy, and if you like mysteries as well you’re in for a treat.

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