City of Lies by Sam Hawke
Publication Date: August 23rd 2018 (first published July 3rd 2018)
Publisher: Bantam Press
Series: Poison Wars #1
Blurb: ‘I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me…’
Jovan wears two faces. Outwardly, he is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible heir. He’s quiet. Forgettable even. But in truth he is a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family. Then there is his sister, Kalina. She hides her frustrations behind a mask of serenity. While other women of the city holds positions of power and responsibility, her path is full of secrets and lies – some hidden even from her own brother.
It’s when the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city that the siblings’ world begins to truly unravel. Trapped and desperate, they soon discover that the society into which they were born and grew up also possesses two faces – for behind the sophistication and the beauty lies an ugly truth – this is a world built on oppression and treachery . . .
A dead chancellor. A city under siege. Deceit and betrayal at every turn.
Jovan and Kalina’s family has always protected the Chancellor and his family. It is their honour to serve behind the scenes. Everything changes when the Chancellor and their beloved uncle are poisoned. Tain, their best friend, is forced to assume the mantle of Chancellor and the three of them soon find that the poisoning was just the beginning.
“Honor lives on after you die. It’s the mark we carve on the world.”
City of Lies was a wonderful debut by Australian author Sam Hawke. As the first chapter in the Poison Wars series, it brings a refreshing entry into the adult fantasy genre. This isn’t wall to wall, non stop action but a slow moving, brilliantly paced book that slowly weaves a tighter and tighter net around our heroes as they struggle to identify the real threat, when nothing is as it seems.
This is a character-driven novel. Split between Kalina’s and Jovan’s POV, we see them grapple with their roles, the secrets between them and their respective relationships to Tain. Jovan has OCD and anxiety, and Kalina is chronically ill. I really liked seeing this representation, not only because it was done well but because it is an area that fantasy often lets people down in terms of seeing themselves represented on page. They are either non-existent or killed off to teach the MC a lesson/provide a growth opportunity. There was also plenty of casual queer rep, where it just was, as opposed to defining the character or their personality.
It was a relatively slow read for the first half or so, however, as I mentioned earlier the pace was really well done and so although events were slow to unfold, the story didn’t feel as if it lagged. As the secrets unravelled and new enemies were revealed, the intensity was something of a snowball effect, where it started with a few flakes, gathering more and more speed as we hurtled towards the end without any idea who the poisoner might be or who the driver behind the siege might be.
“Fear and uncertainty bled through the rage. The sound was like a physical thing, seizing us all. Weapons ceased clashing and slowly the sound swallowed all others”
I really enjoyed City of Lies and highly recommend it if you are looking for a character-driven fantasy focused on the mysteries and political mechanisms of betrayal and the consequences of ignorance.
Have you read City of Lies? Let me know what you thought in the comments below or why you’re excited to read it!