The next book to be Festivus Pimped (so a thing) is by the wonderful Australian author Sam Hawke. Her debut novel, City of Lies (Tor Publishing), is the first in the Poison Wars series but operates as a standalone. And what a brilliant read it is… and has a hellof a first line: ‘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.
While City of Lies sits firmly in the fantasy genre but it’s the murder mystery that drives this story, and it’s quite the suspect list. Let’s not forget the political machinations once the chancellor is murdered. With the city under siege and the enemy closing in, time is running out to find the killer (or killers) and save the Heir from being next on the hit list. Hawke’s world-building is grand in scope yet intricately detailed, and even though most of the story is set within the city’s walls, the world is completely realised.
And oh, the chapter separators. Each new chapter is preceded by a poison (usually plant-based) with an illustration and description of its properties. Due to the ‘whodunnit’ style of the story, these little titbits of information have you guessing as to which was used to kill the Chancellor, and whetherJovan will succumb to a poison for proofing the food for the now Chancellor of a besieged city set with assassins unknown.
City of Lies is a big book, sitting at just over 500 pages, but the skill with which Hawke tells her tale, it is by no means a laborious read. The characters are fully fleshed out, relatable, and with both Jovan and Kalina dealing with personal/physical limitations (Jovan with OCD and Kalina with chronic health issues), the reliance on each other, the skills they’ve acquired and their honour-bound duty to protect the chancellor and his heirs, adds extra depth to the storytelling.
It was a hell of a read, intricately plotted and with a satisfying end that tied up its threads nicely.
Recommended for fans of fantasy, epic fantasy, mystery, political shenanigans, murder mystery.