THE KINGDOM OF LIARS by Nick Martell (Book Review)
‘Dying wasn’t new to me. I had an understanding that it would come for us all one day; all that differed was the time. It was oddly comforting in a way. It was the only time nobles, Royals, and commoners were the same. We all walked into the darkness in the end, meeting whatever waited for us. There were some days that I thought it would be the only time in my life I would be at peace.’
The Kingdom of Liars is the upcoming debut by Nick Martell. This is one book that certainly starts off with a bang as the story begins with Michael Kingman, our main protagonist, on trial for the murder of the king. What a way to start a story! I mean, if that doesn’t hook a reader in, I don’t know what will! As the narrative unfolds we slowly begin to discover what has brought Michael to this point, we learn about his family’s reputation as traitors, and we are presented with a world where magic comes at a terrible cost.
From the opening chapter we are thrown into the middle of events. Much has happened in the land of Hollow; a once-thriving place where a variety of citizens could live prosperously is now teetering on ruination. An all-out rebellion is hatching, caused by the oppressive High Nobles and the Royalty’s rule, turning the people against them. At the centre of it all lies the Kingman family; protectors of the royal line, a once highly respected influential Noble name that is now a disgrace. Michael’s father had been executed for the murder of the King’s son, and Michael seems to be following in his father’s wake.
All is not as it seems though, and in a world where history can be forgotten and retold, can Michael uncover the truth to save not only himself from execution but also save his family’s legacy?
Now, I’m quite fond of books that blend genres, I think they can add an abundance of depth to a story. So I found myself highly impressed by the way Martell blended fantasy with the crime/thriller genre; it made for such a compelling story. This was much in the fashion of RJ Barker in his Wounded Kingdom trilogy; Martell even uses a first-person narration, as Barker did too, and I think this worked perfectly to thoroughly immerse the reader into the world and mystery. Throughout, we follow Michael as he picks up pieces to the puzzle surrounding his father’s supposed treason. We are right with him, making conclusions of our own, and facing a few jaw-dropping twists along the way. This is a book that develops at break-neck speed and leaves you continuously wanting more.
Honestly though, it did take me a while to warm to Michael. At first I found his character to be overly naive, even for his age, and he had a cocky air about him which, for me personally, made him slightly frustrating. Michael was a con artist; he’s shown cheating nobles in order to earn coin, having lost his family’s wealth after the execution of his father. This acts as his small scale revenge. During these beginning chapters, I found Michael was slightly over emotive at times, and rather impulsive. However, as the story takes a dark turn, and Michael finally starts to see the bigger picture; when he realises that every action he takes could cost his family dearly, and when he recognises that he is the con artist who is being conned; well, that’s when we see Michael naturally grow and truly shine. Martell really won me over with Michael’s character arc, because by the end, I wholly admired him.
‘We’re all selfish monsters—the only difference is some of us are more honest about it than others.’
The Kingdom of Liars also includes a varied cast of characters, and I really enjoyed the way Martell built them all up; for good or ill he allowed each of them to come to life. The ones that most stood out to me were Kai, who was a blind, high noble friend to Michael; then there was Michael’s mother, who suffered memory loss, akin to Alzheimer’s disease, and notably many other characters represented different races and class. I feel this is definitely a novel that illustrates the dangers of privileged elitism, prejudices, and an overbearing government, which gravely mirrors some of the issues we still face today.
I also believe one of the significant strengths of this novel lies in the magic system. In the first few chapters Martell throws us into the deep end as we are presented with a host of magic users, with very little explanation as to what their powers entailed. Again, I found this so compelling, I wanted to know so much more, and as the story developed, this was surely delivered. To briefly explain, within the book there are characters who are known as light, air, fire and even metal Fabricators, who wield their specific power. I don’t wish to divulge too much here, so what I’ll just say is that I was most impressed with the consequence each character faced should they overuse their power. You see, uncontrolled use of Fabrications or overuse could potentially lead to becoming a Forgotten: this is where piece by piece your memory is either partially or wholly wiped. Consequently, the central theme in the book is that of memories, and leaving a legacy which can never be erased; but what I loved the most was the concept of surviving in a world where even your own memories are fleeting and not to be trusted. How do you ever know what the truth is?
So, at its heart, The Kingdom of Liars is a tale of family, loyalty and leaving a legacy that none shall forget. This is certainly a book that you won’t be able to put down, and will linger with you long after you’ve read the last page.
ARC provided by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication. The Kingdom of Liars is out 7th May 2020.