Publisher: Tor Books
I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me…
Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.
But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
City of Lies is one of those books that starts off slow and you’re not quite sure how you feel about it. The next thing you know, you’re staying up to 2AM to finish it. It’s a unique take on the epic fantasy genre with more character building than fighting.
What I loved about City of Lies is how character-driven it is. This book could have easily been half its length without the introspection we get from the main duo, Kalina and Jovan. And that’s not a bad thing. At its core, City of Lies is a murder mystery, and the duo are tasked with finding their uncle and Chancellor’s killer. Soon after the deaths, their city comes under siege by an unknown force and they must help the Heir, Tain, defend the city and determine the motivations behind the siege. The alternating POV chapters give a real sense of urgency as problem after problem are stacked upon them. Often, it felt like for every question they answered, three more would spring up.
Reading this, I was surprised by how inherently good Jovan, Kalina, and Tain are. Call me bitter or jaded from too much grimdark, but reading from the perspective of characters who genuinely want what’s best for their people felt so novel, especially in an epic fantasy. While all three are aristocrats who help rule the city, they never act selfishly and truly attempt to fix the problems their people face. They all have such heart and care so much it’s hard not to like them. I know several reviewers have talked about Kalina and Jovan having similar personalities, but I personally found them very distinct. Kalina and Jovan often arrive to similar conclusions, but the routes they take are very different.
Another part this book does well is the worldbuilding. This book is not one for info-dumps, so you pick up only bits and pieces as you go along. By the end though, I have a very solid understanding of the general culture of their land, as well as belief differences between the nobility and common people. I loved the focus on family the society had, as well as the idea that a family runs on the woman’s side. It was a nice change of pace to read about an egalitarian society. This book covers really interesting and topical themes like religion, social inequality, disabilities, and adaption of traditions over time. Most importantly, I found the exploration of treatment of religious minorities in times of crisis very well done.
My one gripe with this book is that I thought the villains felt flat. With how much explanation and backstory goes into other characters and other groups, the villains paled in comparison. In some ways, their motives felt too predictable. I can’t say too much without going into spoilers, but I think if the book had been a little longer just to go into more backstory, the ending would have been more solid
One thing to note for readers is that this book presents a lot of questions to both the main cast and the reader, then takes its sweet sweet time answering them. As the rare person who genuinely enjoys an info-dump, this drove me mad (in a good way). I always wanted to know more, to know why, and this book refused to answer my questions immediately. Plotwise, it made sense, but to my information-loving brain, I was in pain.
Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. The characters, worldbuilding, and plot were all fantastic, especially for a debut. While I thought the villains were a little weak, that could be overlooked for how amazing the rest of the book is. This is also a proper mystery novel where the reader can play whodunnit with the main characters. I look forward to continuing the series!
/r/Fantasy Bingo 2018 Squares:
- Novel reviewed on /r/Fantasy
- Novel Featuring a Non-Western Setting
- Novel Published in 2018
- Novel Featuring a God as a Character (arguable)
- Hopeful Spec-Fic (also arguable)
- Novel with Fewer than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (as of 21 July 2018)
- Novel from the /r/Fantasy LGBTQ+ Database