The cover copy says that this book takes place “in the world of The Goblin Emperor,” a novel that I read several years ago and remember very much liking. It was one of the first books I encountered where quiet kindness was a clear force for good in the face of violence and injustice.
The Witness for the Dead does make reference to some of the events of The Goblin Emperor, but I did not feel lost or excluded by my lack of memory of the details. The Witness, Othala Thara Celehar, seemingly made some wrenching decisions in the first book, leading to the death of his lover. Rather than being confused, I found myself wanting to reread The Goblin Emperor to spend more time with him.
Now in a sort of self-imposed exile, Celehar continues to do his job as requested, listening to the last moments of the dead with integrity and without regard to the political ramifications of his findings. The book resembles a mystery novel as his duty calls upon him to solve several twisting murders, none of which is made easier by his ability to read the victim’s final moments. He pursues his witnessing with too much honesty to be tactful, and a self-effacing gentleness that ignores class and status. It is a lovely reflection on the value of service and competence; a portrait of a person whose innate sense of honor allows him no other options.