Fantasy · Young Adult

The Witch King

I’m getting marginally better at remembering where I get book recommendations from (go me!), so here I’d like to just shout out @trans_cending_literature for being the first person to put this book on my radar/TBR. I added a request for the library where I work to purchase it, but it wasn’t happening fast enough for me because it just looked so good and I wanted to read it sooner… So I actually ended up getting it from another library system (yes – I do have cards to multiple library systems).

The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon

Wyatt Croft, a witch, was once engaged to the fae heir of the kingdom of Asalin, Emyr North. Was. Until the night he lost control of his magic, with devastating consequences, and fled to the human world. There, he was taken in by a family that made him one of their own. Years later, Emyr shows up at his home, cold and distant and with no intention of letting their engagement go (in fact, with every intention of pulling Wyatt back to Asalin whether he wants to go or not). So, Wyatt and Briar (his best and closest friend) travel together to Asalin to sort things out. Despite Wyatt’s insistence that he wants no part of ruling or being in Asalin again, the conflict between the ruling class (fae) and his own people (witches) is getting ever worse, his feelings for Emyr are not quite as simplistically “over it” as he’d like them to be, and Wyatt might have to step up a little (and follow his heart a bit). Plus, Emyr might need his particular style of assistance, because a full on “burn it down and rebuild” revolution might be the only chance Asalin has at real reform. 

This novel had some hardcore, dramatic metal vibes to it (added to by the opening and closing music on the audiobook – I listened as well) and I was here for all of that. Wyatt’s defensive sarcasm, recognizable mix of confidence and self-consciousness, and anti-establishment snark had the exact feral vibe that Edgmon claims for themself in their author bio. And really, if I’m being honest, I felt a lot of what I suspect are the author’s opinions, frustrations/anger, insecurities, and support systems come through in the writing. I definitely could be wrong, but despite the magic and “other-world” ness of the plot and setting, this book felt, overall, incredibly personal. And I liked that for it – there was a lot of emotion throughout and being able to feel the reality of it, behind the fantasy, forged a much stronger connection between reader and text. I do have to say, in line with that vibe, a few times the metaphors/parallels leaned a bit towards the “hit you over the head” obvious, but they were such deeply important messages (regarding arbitrary and fear-based gender and social stratification, in particular) that I’m leaving grace for the fact that some people do actually need to be hit over the head with them. And it was able to flow fairly well into the general world-building and plot development, which was super solid, if not spectacular (and the parallel fae and human worlds created nice opportunities for demonstrating/showcasing these messages as well). Plus, there were some really cool aspects, like magic-technology combinations (sending spells by app/text) that were totally unique! 

The characters were vibrant and beautifully diverse, with a really nice amount of depth and development considering that this was the first in what is clearly meant to be a series and one that felt like a fast/short read (like, it was super compelling and fun to read). In particular, I just really want to highlight the platonic/friendship love between Briar and Wyatt. It was portrayed and described in a way that I rarely see for non-romantic relationships, yet I think readers will recognize this type of love from their own lives and I was thrilled to see it get page time and recognition because it’s so important! Very touching. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Wyatt and Emyr as well – their relationship is complex for many external reasons, which I’m sure many readers will also recognize, and watching them try to work through that to be able to enjoy being together in the way they clearly do was challenging but satisfying. I am not sure exactly when it happened, because with the plot pacing (and the spot on narration) I was speeding right through this one. But by the time I turned the last page, I realized these characters had burrowed all up into my heart and I’m so excited for the next installation of their relationships and revolutions!      

Well I just completely enjoyed my time reading this. I was really feeling the irreverent voice and rage against the machine/social commentary tone. I love a found family. And I couldn’t get over how beautifully and unapologetically trans this entire book was. It was refreshing (and shouldn’t be as much as it was) that while there were many social/stratification issues, gender/sexuality was not one. Plus, as you know, I am a sucker for magic and fae beings, so really…this one checked all my boxes and lived up to expectations. 

A few passages/quotes that particularly struck me while reading:

“But those with power never really needed an explanation for oppressing people other than they can.” 

“You haven’t changed as much as you think you have. […] You have always been you. You just found the language to talk about it.”

“It’s just…the worst ones are usually the loudest. […] And when you’re backed by the institutional power, it’s easy to be as loud as you want.”

“Just because something happens in secret doesn’t mean it’s evil. […] Darkness means safety. It means protection.”

“Your value as a person is not based on how much you can do for other people. You are valuable, Wyatt. You. All on your own. For exactly who you are.”

“There is a power in being seen and wanted as you are…”

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