Books : reviews

Katherine Addison.
The Angel of the Crows.
Solaris. 2020

This is not the story you think it is.
These are not the characters you think they are.
This is not the book you are expecting.

London 1888. Angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A utopia, except for one thing: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds.

Dr J. H. Doyle returns to London having been wounded in Afghanistan by a Fallen, and finds himself lodging in Baker Street with the enigmatic angel Crow. But living with a rogue angel is not so easy; the pair find themselves drawn into the supernatural and criminal worlds of London, from a man kidnapped by a vampire nest to Jack the Ripper’s horrific murders.

Besides Doyle’s nightmares, there is the lingering worry that Crow might Fall…

Katherine Addison.
The Goblin Emperor.
Tor. 2014

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 3 September 2015

A half-goblin, the youngest son of the emperor has lived his entire life in exile, far from the Imperial Court and the intrigue that surrounds it. But then his father and three half brothers—who are the heirs to the throne ahead of him—die together in an airship crash. Maia is summoned to take his father’s throne.

For Maia, life in the capital is a bewildering and exhausting daily test of his mettle. And before long he discovers his father and half brothers’ deaths were no accident. The airship was tampered with. The crash was murder.

With no friends, no advisers, and no schooling in the art of court politics, the only thing Maia knows for certain is that whoever was behind the assassinations must still be plotting an attempt on his life.

Maia is the despised half-goblin son of the emperor, destined to live out his life in exile with a retainer who hates him. But an accident propels him to the throne, where he must survive, despite being totally untrained, and many think unsuited, for the task.

Of course, he does well. It’s that sort of book. But it is an enjoyable ride watching him grow into the role, and into himself, while avoiding being trapped by the intrigues and custom of an interestingly-drawn elves-and-goblins steampunk-ish fantasy world.

I picked this up because it was a nomination for the 2015 Hugo. I suspect I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t had my expectations raised by that. It’s well written, and a good read, but I don’t think it’s up at the level of Hugo winner material (it polled second). However, not every book is, or need be, Hugo material, and I will certainly be looking out for more works by Addison (a pen name of Sarah Monette).

Katherine Addison.
The Witness for the Dead.
Tor. 2021

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 11 March 2022

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead.

Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. Now he lives in the City of Amalo, fas from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference.

He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

Thara Celehar, Witness for the Dead, has been exiled to Amalo, far distant from the Capital. There he carries out his calling as well as possible, given the constraints of various officials who do not like him, his past, or his role.

This is a gentle steam-punk-ish fantasy murder mystery. Thara can speak to the dead, but they often don’t speak back very coherently. So, in order to Witness for them, he has to detect the circumstances of their deaths. Not everyone is pleased with what he uncovers.

An interesting world, interesting puzzles, and a thoroughly decent protagonist, doing the best he can for the victims.

Katherine Addison.
The Grief of Stones.
Tor. 2022

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 2 April 2023

Celehar’s life as the Witness for the Dead of Amalo grows less isolated as his circle of friends grows larger. He has been given an apprentice to teach, and he has stumbled over a scandal of the city—the foundling girls. Orphans with no family to claim them and no funds to buy an apprenticeship. Foundling boys go to the Prelacies; foundling girls are sold into service, or worse.

At once touching and shattering, Celchar’s witnessing for one of these girls will lead him into the depths of his own losses.

The love of his friends will lead him out again.

Thara Celehar has is more settled in to his role as Witness for the Dead. Although still disliked by some powerful people, he has made a variety of friends, and is living a less precarious life. Then he gets assigned an apprentice, a recent widow who discovered she could also speak to the dead, and stumbles across a case that gets more complex the more he digs.

Watching Thara grapple with training his new apprentice, carefully digging into a distressing case, having to deal with – gasp – photographers, exploring new friendships, and confronting potentially devastating perils, is a delight. And how is the change in his life at the end going to affect him? I want more.