Recent Reading: Witness for the Dead

So … I liked The Witness for the Dead. But for me, it’s by no means the equal of The Goblin Emperor.

Three main reasons for that:

a) Maia is, imo, a much better example of a kind protagonist. Celehar is a typical decent person who does not stand out in this way from an enormous crowd of fantasy progatonists.

When Maia is first told he’ll be emperor, before he gets to court, when he first sets foot on the airship that will carry him to court, he pauses to reassure the crew of the airship. He thinks to do that even though this stunning news has just been delivered.

When the coronation takes place, at the end of a very, very long day of fasting and ritual, when the princes take their oaths of fealty, he both sees and responds to the distress of the Prince of Thu-Athamar: “Neither blame nor gilt belongs to you. Do not hold them so closely.”

These are just remarkable instances of empathy, compassion, and kindness. Moments like this absolutely pervade The Goblin Emperor. In contrast, Thara Celehar is much more focused on himself, on his own feelings. This doesn’t mean he isn’t a compassionate person. He is. But he’s not like Maia.

b) Thara CeleharĀ is too self-effacing and will not stand up for himself.

Maia doubts himself at least as much as Celehar. He is constantly thinking of himself as unworthy, ignorant, clumsy, inarticulate, whatever. But he stands up for himself when it’s important. Celehar just does not. This is frustrating.

c) This is the first book of a longer story. This is true even if Addison never writes another book in this series. Witness simply does not feel finished.

Celehar is shown as doubting himself and self-effacing and unwilling to stand up for himself because — this is the feeling I get — his character arc is going to involve moving toward a stronger, more confident stance over the course of a longer story. That’s how it feels.

This is even more true because the hint of romance in Witness is just that: a hint. This story reads like the first part of a grief-and-recovery story and the first part of a romance. In every possible way, Witness feels incomplete.

While I would love to see a true sequel to The Goblin Emperor, the story is much more complete as it stands.

So, Witness, well, I enjoyed it. But for me, it’s an order of magnitude below TGE.

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16 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Witness for the Dead”

  1. I liked Witness quite a bit, but I feel like the first-person point of view changed the feel of the story quite a bit–there is that filter through Celehar’s ruminations for everything, a bit of the ornate distance of the language is lost, and of course some things are obscured because Celehar isn’t quite picking up the hint (like the potential romance). It has a very different feel from Goblin Emperor and the pacing is very unusual too with no chapter breaks! It felt very much slice of life/almost stream of consciousness pacing because of that to me, and then it just does sort of… stop. One of my thoughts on finishing was “ah, now this is an adult SFF book you could absolutely not do in YA!” not for the content but for the structure!

    I think it had already been announced that at least one more is forthcoming and I will be looking forward to it!

  2. Sandstone, I hope there is another one from Celehar’s pov because that story feels so unfinished to me.

    But the story I would really like would be from Csethiro’s pov — the woman chosen as empress, you may recall. She’s interesting, and she’s much closer to Maia, which I would prefer.

  3. Oh, yes, I would love that as well! Huh, it looks like the next Celehar story, The Grief of Stones, is actually up for preorder already with a release date of next June–sooner than I expected, no cover yet though!

  4. Hmm, totally agree with your assessment Rachel. I did enjoy it, but not as much as Maia’s story. I started rereading Goblin Emperor last night and I was thinking how I would really love to read the intersection of Maia and Celehar as they mature into themselves and their identities. Something from Cesthiro would be amazing, but what I really like about Maia and Celehar is they come from the margins. Their identities stem from their sense of otherness, or not belonging.

  5. Yen, I think Csethiro would fit right in for that theme. She is very much a person not following the mandated path for an elven woman in this society.

    I’m re-reading TGE too. Just got to the arrival of Maia’s grandfather the Avar.

  6. Oh, good to hear about The Grief of Stones! We know for sure it’s finished if there’s a preorder link. June certainly seems like a long way away.

  7. Celehar is a much more frustrating protagonist than Maia. And I found the structure of the religion/politics in this book a lot harder to follow. This isn’t a book I’ll hurry to reread, unlike TGE, which I’ve already read about 5 times! But I’m rooting for Celehar and will certainly read a sequel. (Though I agree that I would jump a lot faster at a book featuring Csethiro! Now there’s a protagonist who will stand up for herself!)

  8. Csethiro: “WHAT A PITY SHE DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO DUEL, OR I WOULD PROVE HER WORTHLESSNESS UPON HER CARCASS …

    Or something like that. That is one fierce woman. She would be a wonderful protagonist.

  9. I’d love a book from the secretary’s point of view — you know the courier who comes to Maia with the news. Another C name… Sometimes he was so good I almost didn’t believe in him but I did and I bet Katherine Addison could make me believe in his story from his POV and I’d like to see how she would do it!

  10. I agree with your analysis of the new book. I enjoyed it. But Goblin Emperor was always going to be a hard act to follow. In terms of characters that might be worthy of their own books, what about Maia’s half sister, the astronomer?

  11. Jeanine, yes, she would also be a good choice. I think one reason I prefer Csithero is that she SHOULD be close to Maia pretty often, and I would very much prefer that he be present in the novel as an important secondary character even if he isn’t the protagonist.

    You know, another neat choice might be Idra, the fourteen-year-old heir.

  12. Idra would be interesting too, but presumably something would have to happen to Maia in order for Idra to have much of a book. That’s because iirc Idra doesn’t actually want to be emperor so presumably is happy to sink into obscurity, which wouldn’t make for much of a plot. But you know what, I’d be happy to have a book based on any and/or all of the aforementioned characters! Looking forward to the new Addison book in June.

  13. Jeanine, I’m pretty sure Idra could have an interesting time.

    If I were Maia, I would legally declare Idra an adult right now. It’s dangerous for his heir to be a minor child — and he can trust Idra — and that would get a story moving in a hurry for Idra. The tricky part would be to do anything other than political machinations swirling around him. Or, I guess, to make political machinations interesting to the reader.

  14. I think you could make a very interesting story about Idra having to find a new way, and having it dawn on him that he was, after all, assuming his future was laid out, and finding it’s hard to make a new one.

  15. I read Witness For The Dead as a story about Thara’s shift from being alone to being connected to his society. He has a range of friends and respect for his work from people like the second hand clothes dealer. The machinations of the priesthood not only introduced Thara to the Prince but disposed the Prince to Thara’s side. Thara not only began healing his grief but has tentatively found his way to forgiving and respecting himself. All of that happened in the book. I’m glad to know there is to be another story because it felt to me that this story of Thara ended with him ready for the next evolution of his life.

    Goblin Emperor is one of my all time comfort reads. One fine day I will be able to pronounce all things Elvish :)

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