cover image Witch King

Witch King

Martha Wells. Tordotcom, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-82679-4

Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award winner Wells takes a break from her sci-fi Murderbot series to delve into a complex secondary world fantasy exploring the past and present of Kaiisteron the Witch King, a demon in human form. The past story line follows Kai’s first possession of a human body and his relationship with Prince Bashasa, who orchestrates a coup against the autocratic Hierarchs to avenge his sister’s death. The present begins with Kai abruptly waking to find his consciousness separated from his body—which is now a corpse entombed in a watery prison—and setting out to investigate his own murder. Among those helping him are Ziede Daiyahah, a witch searching for her missing wife; Sanja, a street urchin; and Ramad, a vanguarder and historian. The enormous cast is difficult to keep track of and the dry, workmanlike prose that works so well when Wells is writing robots can make it difficult to feel particularly close to any of these living characters. Laudably, however, Wells treats sexuality and gender (demons can move between male and female bodies) with a refreshing matter-of-factness and depicts the cultures of this world with an anthropologist’s care. Fans will not be disappointed by Wells’s return to fantasy. (May)