I will give you this, the first line of this book is a wicked great start to City of Lies. The attention to detail is amazing, be it the landscape or the characters. And I will be honest, I am not always a fan of debut novels, as I find that they often lack refinement. This one, however, was leaps and bounds above the norm.
The premise is fairly simple: there is a family who has perfected the art of poison. Their job, for they are known as proofers, is to protect the ruling families from harm. The skills they possess enable them to detect or dispense these deadly chemical compounds with relative ease. But, as always, what you do not know can really hurt you. This is a lesson Jovan, and his sister Kalina, learns quickly as the companion and bodyguard to the heir apparent. But as he falls deeper and deeper into plots of intrigue and betrayal, he finds himself at his limits on who and what to trust. For even his closest confidantes keep secrets from him.
I had trouble getting into this story, in spite of the killer premise (pun intended). For in this particular fantasy novel there are surprisingly few fantasy-style elements. Anyone who knows me will attest that I am particularly fond of high fantasy concepts, new worlds with amazing creatures, and spectacular magical aspects. This is practically the opposite. There are whisperings of spirits from the nearby lake, what part they will play is a mystery unto itself. But it is something the ruling council of Salista will come to know quite well.
Now, before anyone reacts to my comments about the book being what I would call low fantasy (based on the quantity of magics therein and on not the text itself), allow me to say this book was superbly written — intrigue and suspense reign supreme. The politics of the region and the aloofness of the city itself are world building at its finest. Multiple families support the city with each vying for its own power, seeking their own needs rather than the good of the people. I was quite pleased with the protagonists and the depth of kinship and love that they display. Each person is uniquely flawed, be it through physical frailness or stressful anxiety. Though too often it seemed as if their voices, even their personas, blended a bit too closely. I am sure, though, with this being the first in a series that these characters will eventually rise to new heights. For with an army sitting upon the doorstep of their nearly defenseless town, they must rise to the challenge to defend their way of life and that of the citizens of Salista. But plots thicken and politics get murkier.
I would not be surprised to find myself picking this as my favorite debut book of the year, since the promise it presents is nearly endless. Author Sam Hawke provides a solid foundation to what could easily become an epic series. Even after the events in this story reach a conclusion, there are a myriad of ways the job of a Proofer could be played out. There are a multitude of directions she could take a second story at a later date. But for now, enjoy this first taste with the knowledge that more is to come!
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.