City of Lies (Poison Wars #1) by Sam Hawke
Published by Tor Books
Adult, Mystery Fantasy
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.
“Honor lives on after you die. It’s the mark we carve on the world. It’s living fairly and respectfully. If you don’t live with honor, what’s the point?”
A stunning debut novel full of endless deceit, misdirection, chaos, and poison.
City of Lies is the first installment to the Poison Wars series and most intriguing novel I’ve read in 2020 by Sam Hawke. This book debuted back in 2018, if you check on GoodReads this book and the author has won a few awards. It is also blurbed by my favorite book reviewer Petrik from Novel Notions. I’ve recently discovered this series after I was approved for the ARC of the sequel, Hollow Empire (releasing December 1st 2020) on NetGalley. The cover is also very stunning, both the UK and US versions definitely tempted me to pick this book up. The signs are all there for me to read this book and I’m so glad I did!
Being a reader that leans toward the fantasy genre, I’ve seen multiple books, both YA and Adult, about assassins. This book flips the premise to the people that protects against assassins, specifically from poisonings. And there are many unique aspects about the book that gives a breathe of fresh air to the fantasy genre. We associate fantasy with magic or maybe magical creatures but not in this book. It is a book that from start to end is heavily plot focused. Readers figure out what is happening as the main characters slowly discovers the puzzle pieces of a giant elaborate scheme. Everything is shrouded in mystery and mayhem that leaves you not trusting anyone. The perspective we get to follow is from the side of the people that is trying to untangle the web of mystery surrounding the poisoning. This is what makes City of Lies so original and different. And I quote from Petrik from Novel Notions he calls this book a “whodunit fantasy”. Which I completely agree.
In this story we follow Jovan, a proofer and master of poisons. Jovan’s job as proofer is a long family tradition. He and his family have served as the Chancellor’s trusted companion and protector. One day the current Chancellor and Jovan’s uncle dies from an unknown poison which lead to Tain, the Chancellor’s nephew to inherit his uncles title. Jovan also inherits his uncle seat next to the Chancellor as trusted protector and advisor. After the funeral, it is discovered that an army is laying siege to the city. Jovan and Tain is not alone in this matter as they are helped by Jovan’s sister, Kalina. Together the tree of them try to uncover the mysterious deaths of their uncles while also trying to protect the city from the army that’s seeking blood.
Throughout the book, I felt as confused as the main characters of the books. Everything that happened seems so out of the blue and sudden, which made me want to read more. Sam Hawke knows how to keep you guessing who’s behind all of it and question everyone. The way the author weaved the mystery into the plot and storyline is done well. There are many takeaways from the story such as the importance of honor, the general ignorance that slowly creeps into society with the progression of human life, and the consequences of such ignorance that causes discrimination towards people that still lives by the old traditional values.
The world building is exquisite and it never felt cramped even though the book took place in one city. There are not much magical aspects in the story like most of the fantasy books I’ve read. I even began questioning about the magic and wondering when it will pop up. The moment when it did appear, I was utterly speechless because it wasn’t just the mystery that kept me on edge. But also everything else in between. I also loved the description of poisons in between chapters, their effects, symptoms, and how to detect the poison. And I would like to point out that many of the women in this city, they have important roles in the runnings of the government. Which I was living for while reading the book!
The characterization of the main characters left a huge impression on me. Jovan is a flawed main character, that is clearly struggling with anxiety and he doesn’t miraculously develop into a hero. He had to learn quickly to fill in his uncle’s role and he still had a few moments of weakness. Which made Jovan a well fleshed out character throughout the story. He is not your typical hero, he doesn’t have amazing weaponry skills but he does have a smart calculating mind. Jovan’s POV also gave good insight into his role as proofer-master of poisons and the political drama that comes with his new role. While Jovan’s and Tain’s role in the story is much clearer, as advisor and Chancellor. Kalina’s role started out really weak and less interesting, not until she began sleuthing around. She emerged to be a strong willed and determined female character while having her disadvantages. I like the representation of mental illness and chronic illness in this book. It is constantly mentioned about the humanity of the main characters. They all seemed like they could be a real person. But I do want to mention that at first it was harder for me to distinct between Jovan and Kalina, they carry the same tone and sometimes their inner voices just meshed together for me. Regardless, Jovan’s and Kalina’s POV is done well. Honestly, Kalina blew me away in the last one hundred pages of the book. I’ve finished this book a few days ago and I still murmur the words “Kalina, Oh Kalina” in my head sometimes.
City of Lies is surely a memorable fantasy story in 2020 with its originality and addicting plot. I am shocked that not a lot of people are raving about this book. This book could definitely bridge readers that prefer to read mystery as introduction to fantasy. Even though I prefer a story that is character driven, I still enjoyed reading this book and I still got attached to a few characters. I highly recommend for you to try reading City of Lies if you’re looking for an original and unorthodox fantasy story.