Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison (The Goblin Emperor #2)

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ARC received from the publisher (Tor) in exchange for an honest review.

It’s always difficult when one of your most anticipated releases of the year turns out to be a complete disappointment. I had a little warning, fellow fans of The Goblin Emperor disappointed, my experience with The Angel of the Crows tempering my expectations, I knew it was not a true sequel and different…but I did expect a certain degree of craft that just wasn’t there in the end.

The story follows Thara Celehar, a witness for the dead and a minor character from The Goblin Emperor as he goes around his job, investigating the causes of death of various inhabitants of Amalo and helping resolve their disputes. In particular, the cases he focuses on here are the murder of an opera singer (mostly this), an inheritance dispute, and a woman who died in mysterious circumstances shortly after her marriage.

The biggest issue with the book is the characterisation. Not only do the characters lack the charm that The Goblin Emperor had, Celehar has no personality at all. He’s dutiful and restrained – and that’s it. And he undergoes no growth, no change whatsoever. The side characters are entirely forgettable. The only semi-interesting one is Arveneän, the murdered and quite unsympathetic opera singer, but well…she’s dead. We only ever see her through other characters’ eyes.

The writing, this time in first person, is also dull and lifeless. I went there, I talked to that person, then I went to that place, I had some tea, and so on. The plot is also very meandering, with a lot of random subplots and a weak main thread (which might have better worked as a novella?), which would be entirely fine if everything else was in order. But combined with the character issues, it made the book awfully tedious to read. It didn’t take long until I started skimming.

I continued for one reason and one reason only: I’m a complete slut for mysteries. No matter how bad, I need to know the answer. So I skimmed on. And yes, unsurprisingly, the resolution to the main mystery was largely unsatisfying and lackluster. I doubt that “well okay then” was the intended reaction.

To use a metaphor, this book the equivalent of ordering a luxurious comforting latte and discovering you got served cold espresso instead. It’s not that the order got changed and doesn’t match my expectations per se. If I got a nice mocha or a capuccino I would still happily take it and not complain at all. But while cold espresso is coffee and drinkable and does the trick of waking you up, it just doesn’t compare.

Enjoyment: 2/5
Execution: 2/5

Recommended to: …honestly, this one is hard to recommend
Not recommended to: character-focused readers

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