The Grief of Stones


Katherine Addison


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 1, 2022

he Grief of Stones is the second novel featuring Thara Celehar, who works as a Witness for the Dead in the city of Amalo. A Witness for the Dead can communicate with a deceased person for a few days (or sometimes weeks) after their death, until their spirit eventually dissipates. In this novel, the reader sees Celehar respond to a series of different requests for important post-death communication. Some of the cases are easily solved - "My husband died and I cannot find where he hid our savings - could you ask him?" Some of the investigations are more complicated. At the start of the novel, the Marquess Ulzhavel demands that Celehar investigate the death of his wife, Marquise Tomilo Ulzhavel, who perished three months earlier. Why call for a Witness of the Dead so longer after her death? While going through the papers of his dead wife, the Marquess Ulzhavel found an unsigned note that simply states "STOP INTERFERING OR WE WILL MAKE YOU STOP". To the Marquess, it is clear that his wife was threatened, and perhaps someone made good on that threat. Despite the cold trail, Celehar must find out who wrote the note and why - who was an enemy of the Marquise? Was the Marquise actually murdered?

One of Celehar's friends in Amalo is Mer Pen-Thenhior, the director of the Vermilion Opera. Celehar explains the predictiments of the various cases to his friend, and Mer Pen-Thenhior offers advice and insights, and sometimes even offers direct assistance. Showing Celehar interacting with his friends (Anora, who runs the cemetary, often dines with Celehar at the Chrysanthemum. Ulzhavar is a mortician - Celehar naturally has friends in the funeral business, since he deals with the recently deceased.) allows Addison to put Celehar's character on display, and also allows her to maneuver Celehar about the city of Amalo, displaying her impressive world building. Addison must have a fantastically detailed map of her imaginary city - every tram line named, the major buildings described in detail, with history and architectural style noted. Addison tells of the various foods Celehar eats, the different dress affected by different classes of citizens and various professions. The names and titles of the characters have variations indicating gender and status; it would not surprise me if Addison had worked out her own language and alphabet for the elves and goblins in her world. It is impressive, detailed world building, but it is not crammed down the reader's throat in boring info dumps. I enjoyed how Addison worked in all these details to make the entire tale seem authentic.

Celehar's world seems roughly equivalent to late 19th century Earth. There is photography, electric trams, lighter-than-air ships, and lighting at the opera. (The title, The Grief of Stones is the name of an opera that Pen-Thenhior is writing. Pen-Thenhior likes to stage operas about goblins, the lesser class, which shocks the elven elites.) There is also some magic, most obviously, Celehar's limited ability to communicate with the recently deceased. There are also ghouls and a malevolent spirit that is dangerously powerful called a revethavar. It is an interesting world to explore.

A middle aged elven woman, Othalo Tomasaran appears at Celehar's office. She is a widow, and is startled to discover, this late in life, that she can communicate with the dead. Tomasaran is a widow, she accidentally brushed her husband before the closing of the coffin, and discovered she could communicate with him. Now a widow, and in need of employment, Tomasaran has been directed to become a Witness for the Dead, and to train under Celehar (who is the only practicing Witness in Amalo). This allows Addison to show Celehar's kindness, as he trains Tomasaran in witnessing. Celehar also feeds sardines to the stray cats near his residence, just in case anyone doubted his character. When villainy arises, Celehar pursues justice, undaunted by personal threats or formidable tasks. He seems to have a special soft spot for helping out the foundlings. The reader cannot help but like Celehar.

The Grief of Stones does not follow a typical story format - where there is a single main mystery, with clues discovered that gradually build to a climax and the unmasking of the villain. Instead, the novel follows Celehar and his new apprentice through a series of different cases. The original mystery, the death of Marquise Ulzhavel is resolved before the halfway point of book is reached, but new mysteries always develop, as various petitioners find their way to Celehar's office in the Prince Zhaicava Building. Will there be a third book featuring Thara Celehar? I certainly hope so!