Jun 162023

New York Times: Reversing that trajectory, Martha Wells has followed up her best-selling series of Murderbot novellas with a return to full-length, epic fantasy. WITCH KING (Tordotcom, $28.99, 414 pp.), a deeply immersive throwback to a beloved (and for me, foundational) species of 1990s fantasy doorstop, is full of cataclysmic intrigues between mostly immortal families, complete with map and dramatis personae.

The titular Witch King, Kaiisteron, or Kai, wakes from an enchanted sleep to find that he and his best friend, Ziede, have been betrayed and imprisoned by someone close to them. Kai is a demon, able to wield magic and possess the bodies of the living; Ziede is a witch, able to converse with the elemental world. They use their powers to subdue and escape their would-be captor, but discover that Ziede’s wife, Tahren, is missing.

Together — gathering waifs and strays along the way — they embark on a quest to find her and root out the conspiracy that separated them. As they search for answers, Kai remembers his early life fighting necromantic wizards called Hierarchs and rebuilding the world they broke.

Kai is very good at protecting those he has chosen to care for, and part of the pleasure of “Witch King” comes from seeing his keen-edged competence at work, contrasted with moments of profound, bewildered vulnerability. Kai’s timelines play off each other wonderfully: Elements introduced in a dizzying rush of world building become welcome context for the flashbacks, which in turn escalate tension in the present. Wells is working at the height of her powers here, and it’s relaxing to be carried along for a ride in the company of such a phenomenal storyteller.