The sequel to The Witness for the Dead is just as delightfully twisty and charming as previous books in the world!
Book: The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison
Publication date: 7th July 2022
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Solaris. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury, death and murder; child abuse/neglect; blackmail; involuntary pornography.
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, Celehar’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.
I really loved The Witness for the Dead, for reasons I outlined in my review, and this sequel is very much a straight continuation of Celehar’s story, so if you’re new to the series, I really do recommend that you start with book one. It’s not that the plot is a direct follow-up so much as the emotional journey that Celehar has been through, and the world and the writing are both very intricate, so it’s worth brushing up so you can remember who’s who, and to get your ear in for the very formal system of addresses. As with book one, you can more or less just let the dozens of different titles and naming conventions flow over you – if you can keep track of the main players, then all the little differences are just extra bonuses for linguistic nerds. I wish there was a glossary or a dramatis personae included, though.
This is, in a way, a dark book, as Celehar investigates murders, deals with ghouls, and discovers the dark secrets of a poorly-run school for orphans, but it’s also an intensely warm and loving one, and one that holds space for all the worries and emotions that Celehar’s work provokes. The story is always on the small-scale: one person (and his new assistant) doing what they can to make the world around them a tiny bit better. The plot weaves quietly and slowly along from seemingly-minor job to seemingly-minor job, until we see how cumulative actions can become an avalanche. Without giving too much away, the second half of the book deals with something of a crisis of faith for Celehar, which I found fascinating to read. Here is a character who is equal parts cynic and optimist, who believes in the best of people even as he gets to know their worst, and to lose something of that is a very powerful, evocative storyline, even when it isn’t dramatic. It’s a great depiction of being lost without your purpose, of needing to carve a place for yourself without knowing what shape it should be. I stand by my assessment of this series as ‘if Kiki’s Delivery Service was about an elven death priest’, but while I meant that about the themes of getting to know people and the value of hard work in the first book, here I mean more in how it engages with purpose, strength, and depression. It’s an odd comparison but it really does give me the same heart-warming, intensely human feel.
These books really are a masterclass in atmosphere – I felt completely immersed in the world from the get-go, and everything is so vividly evoked, from setting to character to emotion, that it feels very intimate. The Grief of Stones tackles some very grim subjects but never forgets the compassion and warmth that keeps it from being a grim, heavy read. It’s kind of gentle and sweet even in the most horrible moments – really very hard to describe! But I wholeheartedly recommend the series to those willing to try a more unusual fantasy – for me, this gets five out of five cats!