Review: The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison at Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons have published my review of Katherine Addison's The Grief of Stones, the sequel to last year's The Witness for the Dead, which was itself a spin-off of Addison's beloved 2014 fantasy of manners The Goblin Emperor. Unlike Goblin's court intrigue, the Witness novels are detective stories, starring the priest-necromancer Thara Celehar. It's interesting that Addison chose such an oblique follow-up to what was after all a popular and well-loved novel, but as I note in my review, both The Goblin Emperor and now this new series seem to draw on inspirations from outside the fantasy genre, while constructing a thought-out, down-to-earth fantasy world.

The books I found myself comparing it to are Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody detective novels (2004-2019). As in that series, the detective takes on an array of cases, some trivial—a bakery desperate to find a suddenly-deceased partner’s scone recipe—and some tragic—a newly-bereaved husband who needs Celehar to find where his wife hid their savings in order to pay for her burial. The investigations cut into and interrupt each other. Some are quickly resolved, others span the length of the novel, and others still converge in unexpected ways. And, much like Brody, Celehar is melancholy and thoughtful, and often deeply affected by the suffering that his work uncovers. (Unlike Brody, however, Celehar occasionally finds himself having to fight supernatural monsters; this is still a fantasy world, after all.)

So far I’ve written about The Witness for the Dead, but everything I’ve said about it applies equally to its sequel, and the subject of this review, The Grief of Stones. The highest praise and most pressing critique I can make of this novel is that it does exactly what its predecessor did, with a new series of cases. If you enjoyed The Witness for the Dead—and, to be clear, I very much did—you will probably feel the same way about The Grief of Stones.
For all the similarities between the two novels, I did find hints of overarching themes and throughlines to this series. I don't tend to review series novels, and especially not ones like The Grief of Stone, which emerge from a more formulaic tradition than most fantasy series. It was an interesting exercise finding the words to express my admiration for what Addison has done with a much smaller, gentler palette than many of her fellow authors, and one that left me eager for future novels in the series.

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