Liz Bourke criticizes witness to the deaths of Katherine Addison – locus online
The witness of the dead, Katherine Addison (Tor 978-0-765-38742-4, $ 25.99, 240pp, hc) June 2021.
The witness of the dead isn’t a sequel, focusing as it does on an almost entirely different cast of characters and taking place far from the Imperial Court. But despite his altered background, he has a similar flavor, with an intimate and personal emotional register and a thematic preoccupation with duty and ethics, loneliness and connection, choices and consequences.s Sarah Monette, Katherine Addison wrote a tetralogy (Melusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, Corambis) and co-wrote a trilogy with Elizabeth Bear (A companion for wolves and suites), but it is best known for the The goblin emperor (2014), a novel about an isolated young man who unexpectedly succeeds in ruling an empire; on his loneliness and his struggle to do good through his responsibilities, his role and what remains of his family: a struggle to be a good man and an ethical emperor. Fans have long waited for a sequel, or at least another volume in the same universe, and The witness of the dead does not disappoint.
Readers of The goblin emperor Thara Celehar will be remembered, the shy and withdrawn prelate of Ulis to whom Emperor Maia (reigning as Edrhasivir IV) turned to investigate the murder of his father and half-brothers. Celéhar, although successful in his mission, was not happy about it and did not really want any tangible reward that the emperor could offer him. Now he resides in Amalo, a provincial town best known for its airship industry, in an awkward position – neither fish nor poultry – with the town’s religious hierarchy, followed by politics but unwilling to really participate.
Celehar’s gifts and talents make him a natural witness to the dead, as he is able to communicate, in some way, with the nuances of the recently deceased, and the role of a witness to the dead is to be their lawyer. His decency and basic honesty – and kindness – make work weigh on his mind. Celehar presents himself as a man who is haunted, in more than one sense of the word, and who deeply feels his duty: he wants to be useful.
When a young woman’s body washes in the river, Celehar’s tasks are to find out who she is and investigate how she died. When it turns out that someone has killed her, part of her role is to find the killer. This leads him into the Amalo opera scene, where it turns out the young lady didn’t like much, and into the business and secrets of a high-profile opera company and its very friendly manager.
This investigation is not the sum of Celehar’s tasks, although it is, for the moment, perhaps the main one. Testifying in the case of a contested will causes political issues that lead him to be kicked out of town to deal with a problem of ghouls in the countryside in the midst of his investigation. Upon his return, his honesty and vocation are called into question and he is forced to prove himself through ordeal. And the search in city cemeteries for the grave of a distraught man’s sister – buried by a husband who cut her off with her newborn baby from her family – leads him to the discovery of a series of murders. .
Part of the appeal of a murder mystery – and The witness of the dead is truly a murder mystery – especially a historical or fantasy mystery, is the exploration of the world, the piecemeal revelation of how things fit together or don’t fit when they should, that’s the context mystery. The most common failure mode of a fantasy mystery is when it lacks the depth of the world, the depth of field, to provide a rich background. and a rich foreground into which red herring, deception and embezzlement can fall. It is not a failure to which The witness of the dead is sensitive. Addison’s prose breathes life into a world full of detail, a world that makes sense – socially, culturally, in its contradictions and nuances – in itself, which we see through Célehar’s eyes. His assumptions about how the world works and how the world sees it – its poverty, its painful humility, its… shyness or loneliness or both – are only mostly true, and the details may give us some be a more complete picture, at least of himself, than he himself notices. Amalo is a city with as much character as a real place, as complex and credible as London, Paris or Hong Kong.
In other hands The witness of the dead may come across as a black or as cozy, but as a mystery novel, it’s not easy to fit into either category. As The goblin emperor, it is fundamentally human, sensitive and kind. Celehar is a compelling protagonist and, as always, Addison gives her characters striking and engaging voices. The witness of the dead is an accomplished and enjoyable novel, and I believe fans of The goblin emperor will find a lot to delight them here.
This review and other similar articles in the May 2021 issue of Location.
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