Similarly to the way I felt about Addison’s first novel (under this penname at least) The Goblin Emperor, the names and the naming system and the worldbuilding are A LOT. Unlike with The Goblin Emperor, there is no glossary, and we are not joining a world as the fish out of water along with the main character like we were with Maia in the previous book. Our main character here, Thara Celehar, a Witness for the Dead, has been doing his job (and doing it very well) for decades. And though he hasn’t always lived in Amalo, his current city, he has lived there long enough to be very familiar with it. We are not. With any of it. It’s a lot to get used to. Seriously, four times I had to start over. And the fourth time I had to force myself through the first fifty pages, which is about when the naming conventions and other cultural stuff started to stick, though I still was mixing up characters all the way to the end of the novel.
To be quite honest, this is a 232 page book that reads like a 400+ page book. That has its downsides, but it also has benefits. Once you do manage to get in, at least in my case, I really began to love the world the characters, and was impressed with just how much STUFF Addison was able to build into this world in such a short amount of time. Good character work, essentially three mystery plots, worldbuilding details about Celehar’s religion and job and city, his past, etc. It is honestly so impressive, and I hope Addison decides to not only write more in this world, but specifically to write more with Celehar, who I really grew to love over the short (and long) time I spent with him.
This is essentially a combo character/slice of life/mystery/fantasy novel. The main character was in the previous book, and he was instrumental in uncovering a key plot point. As a result, he received a prime job placement which has helped him overcome a scandal from his past. Thara is also gay (which has a different word here that I’m forgetting) which is taboo in this culture, which is a thing we did not know (I don’t think?) from book one. He’s in that terrible middle stage of grieving where he’s still actively grieving, but is also getting ready to move on. He also faces conflict in his job because of political issues having to do with his placement, and because not everybody actually believes he can talk to the dead.
I know I spent a significant portion of this review talking about how hard it was to get into, but ultimately when I did, it sort of made it more satisfying for me when everything clicked. I do think that I highly recommend this one. Just know going in that you have to be patient with it. (A glossary really would have been helpful, though. Come on, Tor.)