- Title: Kingdom of Liars
- Author: Nick Martell
- Pub: Simon & Schuster
- Length: 608p
- Release: July 23rd 2020 (new date)
- Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ maybe
Thank you to Bookish First and Simon & Schuster for my ARC of The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell. Book was claimed in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own!
Here is the description from GoodReads:
In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.
Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.
In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.
What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.
(If you’re here for the Sanderson commentary, it’s towards the bottom)
So there is obviously a lot going on in the book, and it is a whopper at 608 pages. The book is told in first person, as Michael relates his story to a certain Archivist before his execution.
This is fantasy, so lets start with the world building. My biggest gripe with the book was a certain lack thereof, despite the length. Words like Tweeker, Skeleton, Sacrifice, the entire political and military structure, religion, and even the purpose of the Kingmans are thrown out in name or title but never elaborated on. It makes sense to a certain point since Michael wouldn’t have explained things to the Archivist that he already knew, but I don’t think these explanations would have hurt the story.
The action and pacing is decent. The plot starts out a little slowly then picks up around the half way point, holding my attention until the end. There was enough action throughout to keep me fairly interested – immersion is where the book struggles. Guns are a big controversy in fantasy novels but I can understand how the non magical countries developed firearms to level battle fields against the fabricators REAL quick, although foreign wars weren’t the focus. In fact the entire plot only takes place over a few days. I like a good bit of political maneuvering in the plot too but readers didn’t see it; another character was facilitating things off page.
Besides the guns, the language and names hurt immersion a LOT. Come on, Treyvon and Jamal, dark colored guys from the wrong side of the river turning into disillusioned villains? I feel like he took a bit from Batman or Mistborn and an American political commentary. Bring down the nobility! Also most of the character names were decidedly American. In a world with magic wielders and broken, prophetic moons, the swearing is an issue too – a great fantasy world will invent it’s own slang, but Martell settled for the nine thousand uses of the word Fuck. The only swear/curse in Hollow is apparently Fuck, and that’s just not good in high fantasy. The lack of world building specifics also hurt immersion, as described above it just hurts the story when I don’t know what is being talked about and have to try to guess.
The most well described bit of the world was probably the Royals vs high vs low nobles vs those in poverty, but only in the sense of rich vs poor and poverty. Actually that might be a lie too because no one seemed to really support or care about the rebels, so I don’t know what’s going on with the mood of the city other than that the poor are poor and the rich are rich, and most not rich people are afraid.
Speaking of nobles with power and rich vs poor pit workers … The big elephant in the room is that Sanderson blurbed the book. I am not a fan of his writing after reading Mistborn but I see similarities especially in the magic system – mostly that it’s lazy. Everyone gets one specialty (or rarely two) and they range from “light” to “dark” to “nullify” to “lightning” fabrications … You get the idea. The magic just happens too, it’s innate and the nobles have to train to use it or they can destroy their memories. Maybe Sanderson saw some of himself and his early writing in the book but I also wonder if he actually read it.
Most of the characters are not excellent at all. Michael is so caught up in his family legacy that he’s just stupid, getting himself nearly killed frequently. He is near sighted and seems to have no concept of thinking things through or finishing any plans that he starts. He whines, changes his mind frequently, hurts people because he never thinks, and I thought it was great when the Mercenary called him out on being spineless. Even at the end Michael couldn’t stop repeating the family broken legacy record. Oh yeah I hate books that repeat themselves and he spent way too much time pining over his father and the legacy, we got it already. No one wants to be forgotten/Forgotten but this is an adult fantasy, we don’t need the repetition.
Kai (blind) was my favorite character other than Dark, the badass mercenary. I also liked Gwen, Michael’s sister, for unexplained spoilery reasons, and Dawn. The title of the series, “The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings,” makes sense only at the end when we have an idea where the series might go. Really though if Kingdom of Liars is just a long introduction and exposition to Michael’s story going forward, the world-building needed to be there.
Random bits: I thought I spotted a nod to Glen Cook’s The Black Company, which is great if it wasn’t coincidental. I also like when Hanging Gardens hang people, not just flowers.
Honestly I will probably at least try to read the second book. The new set of characters might be more interesting going forward and events should be taking place in the present. I am at a solid ⭐⭐⭐ for this one, for poor immersion and lazy magic with enough action to keep me reading. Would recommend for fans of Sanderson and lower/middle fantasy.