Enter Thara Celehar, Witness for the Dead, who will speak to the deceased he can reach, whether it’s to solve murders, settle inheritance disputes, or even locate a secret and much-prized scone recipe. It’s all in a day’s work when you’re the only Witness for your city.
Katherine Addison first introduced Celehar in her award-winning The Goblin Emperor, before following up with his own sequel, The Witness for the Dead. The Grief of Stones follows directly on from that, continuing his adventures in a world cunningly drawn to be both wildly fantastic and comfortingly mundane. I mentioned dragons, but the dead are a more present aspect; if bodies are buried without names and the appropriate ceremonies, too close to a particularly hated rival, or their graves neglected after burial, then they’re not just about to lie down and take it. These dead will rise, and they’ll be after the living. It adds an entirely new dimension to dealing with death, grief, and the rituals that surround both – and Katherine Addison makes it feel entirely logical and real.
The real trick with these novels is the way the reader is dropped into the middle of an entirely new world, one with intricate, almost courtly, social expectations, and yet the author has you understanding it within a couple of chapters, without simply explaining it to you. Instead, context leads to understanding, and the day-to-day nature of life in such a fantastical setting encourages the reader to feel at home and comfortable. Celehar frequents teahouses, feeds stray cats, and cares deeply about doing the right thing; I found him very easy to trust, and despite a focus on death The Grief of Stones is anything but grim.
As for the mystery aspect, readers will not be disappointed. There’s a central intrigue, but Celehar sees a number of petitioners for his services, and each has their own case with a story that may be minor in the scope of the novel, but is shown as mattering deeply to them. One is a matter of a single word – another is a family tragedy that we catch only a brief glimpse of. It’s a very effective way of showing small moments of a much wider world, while keeping the potential for stories from running away with the plot.
The Grief of Stones is an excellent third entry in an absolutely wonderful series. Katherine Addison has built a world that could easily fuel more and more of these – let’s hope it does.