One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (Impossible Times #1)
Published by: 47North
Genre: Science Fiction
Purchased Copy from Amazon
Do you ever get exhausted by humongous fantasy sagas? I don’t blame you in the least–there’s something intimidating about series that are thousands upon thousands of pages long, their very presence on your shelves as daunting as the localized quakes made by an oncoming Tyrannosaurus Rex in a children’s amusement park.
Good news: With Impossible Times, Mark Lawrence has you covered. All three books in the series are very short indeed, between 190 and 220 pages, the plot of each one tight enough
One Word Kill introduces us to Nick Hayes, the protagonist and first-person narrator of the series, and his group of friends, with whom he plays D&D*. The novel’s two opening paragraphs are a little like a slap or a cold drink thrown in your face. We meet our protagonist in the worst moment of his fifteen years of life, sitting in a hospital office, having tuned out the doctor who just gave him a diagnosis only a little short of a death sentence: leukaemia.
Mark Lawrence has a phenomenal talent in establishing a voice from the get-go. As soon as you’ve read a few sentences such as “A polymath. That’s how people described her. My father used to say that she knew everything about everything. He died when I was twelve. He also had cancer, but an oncoming train cured him,” you have an idea of who Nick is firmly planted in your head. Smart, for one, and a touch cynical; the loss of a parent at that age does that to a child. Morbidly funny, too, to the point that humour might be something of a life-line—what other explanation is there for a son describing the circumstances of his father’s death as having “cured him”?
Nick is clever—and not just in that way that snide fifteen-year-olds are, but proper, “I can figure out the mathematical underpinnings of the universe and time and space” clever. Hell, this doesn’t even begin to describe it. This is a story of friendship, of love, and of time travel. That’s right, time travel. The title of the series makes better sense now, doesn’t it?
First, Nick’s dice-throwing friends. Simon has near-perfect memory (I can’t recall whether Lawrence ever defines it as hyperthymesia or eidetic, but Nick, on more than one occasion, notes that Simon remembers everything). John is too cool for the gang, a bona fide rich kid who is quite alright**. He’s got a good heart and is a big help. No, really. Elton is one of five children of immigrant parents, living in a small apartment; all of them are escaping from one thing or another—the death of a parent, an overbearing, intruding family, the terror of overbearing wealth, an inability to read or replicate social cues. D&D is tailor-made for every single one of them.
Enter Mia, Elton’s friend—and a girl!—and Demus, a mysterious bald-headed man in his forties, who knows more about Nick than Nick knows about himself. A less skilled scribe might have made of Mia your typical damsel-in-distress, but this young lady can take care of herself.; this story is every inch as much hers as Nick’s. And as he does his best to survive his disease and the poisonous chemotherapy trying to kill the cancer cells within his body before they kill him, as he navigates complex friendships and confusing feelings, as he tries to save the girl and is saved by the girl in turn, he even has a psychopath to contend with, someone Lawrence builds up masterfully:
People think you need to be big to be scary. They see boxers, big muscles, long arms, huge guys, and think that’s what matters on the streets. What really matters in real life, though, is how far you’re prepared to go and how quickly.
I don’t know about you just now, but I got goosebumps when I first read that paragraph.
Goosebumps, laughter, and even tears—that’s a succinct description of the physiological effects One Word Kill had on me. It’s a great book—read it, you’ll enjoy it to bits!
*That’s Dungeons and Dragons, you philistine.
**Eat the rich, but leave John for last.