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Witch King

By Martha Wells 

9 May, 2023

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Martha Wells’ 2023 Witch King is a secondary universe fantasy novel. 

Kai, the Witch King, wakes to find himself dead. Who is responsible? and what events led Kai to his current condition?

Kai is a demon, able to appropriate mortal bodies as needed. Having regained consciousness, he discovers a convenient mortal shell nearby. He wastes very little time commandeering it and ridding himself of the pesky mortals who trespassed on his underwater prison.

Years ago, Kai had been only one of the Hierarchs’ many victims. Invaders from who knows where, the Hierarchs were armed with irresistible magical weapons. One by one, the nations of the region were crushed. The conquered were permitted to live as long as they were useful. The wise understand that this is a temporary condition. The long-term plan is to exterminate every conquered person, to make room for the Hierarchs.

By pure chance Bashasa of Arike picks the demon Kai to rescue from the prison that is the Cageling Demon Court. Bashasa has a bold plan to strike against the Hierarchs, a plan in which all oppressed people may participate. It’s almost certainly going to end in the rebels’ horrible deaths. However, acquiescing in the status quo will also lead to death. It’s an easy choice to rebel.

Events do not play out as planned. However, the outcome is all that could be hoped for. The Hierarchs’ empire falls, replaced by the comparatively egalitarian Rising World.

Fast forward to the present, wherein someone has murdered Kai’s mortal shell and imprisoned his close ally, the witch Ziede. Whoever did this had to be someone the pair trusted, which is a very short list indeed. Having located and freed Ziede, Kai the Witch King sets out to determine whodunnit and why. And how many were involved. This is bad news for the conspiracy.


If like so many people you have acquired the most recent edition of Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying and are searching for inspiration, consider The Witch King. While many of the characters in this novel command impressive powers, almost all of them are seriously inconvenienced by carefully inserted swords. Even the seemingly invincible Hierarchs fare poorly when stabbed and even more poorly when beheaded. Would make for great gameplay!

The Hierarchs make a classic mistake in the backstory that comprises half of the novel. They govern in such a manner as to make loyalty as fatal as rebellion. While they claim that their most faithful followers will be spared the on-going genocide, few believe this. Added to their mistakes in governance is a mistaken faith in personal inviolability.

Have fun speculating which historical models the author had in mind.

Much of the modern-day plot involves an entirely different historical model, a new world order that is less autocratic and malign. But folks forget just how bad it used to be; the various factions that joined in rebellion are beginning to wonder if the compromises made during the revolt are really worth keeping. Perhaps things would run better if some groups were more equal than others. Again, have fun speculating what events the author may have had in mind.

Unravelling the whodunnit mystery is fairly straightforward, since the list of suspects isn’t all that long. Thanks to the conspirators’ firm belief in the sunk cost fallacy (too much has been invested in our conspiracy to abandon it simply because it has failed), many thrilling action scenes follow Kai’s waking from imprisonment.

World, characters, and plot were all engaging. I would like to read more in this setting, so I am going firmly assert that is part of the Rising World series on the grounds that once it is in print, the author will naturally be compelled to make it true. That’s how this works, right?

Witch King is available (for preorder) here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Apple Books), and here (Chapters-Indigo).