Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Series: Poison Wars #1
Published by: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765396890
ISBN 13: 9780765396891
Published: July 2018
Pages: 560
Format reviewed: eVersion from Publisher
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

I’m having trouble reading, lately. I love a book and yet I’m constantly distracted from it. This has been quite a month, too, with my dog being attacked by two others and almost losing a leg – a project at work finally finishing but making me such a zombie all I can do is play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine on repeat. And I had a holiday to Tasmania and then Canberra, and though I always think I’ll read on the plane trips (six, this time), it never happens.

Regardless, City of Lies was a source of great comfort to me throughout the above. It’s not exactly a nice tale – it doesn’t comfort you through fluffy scenes and cozy scenes – it comforts you through being so damn well written and engaging that it warms your soul and revitalises you. If you’re a fan of V. E. Schwab or Robin Hobb’s work go get this book right this second.

I’m always a sucker for character-driven books, and that’s what we have right here. The characters are all varied and interesting, but the plot, too, drives you from scene to scene, and it’s pretty much a murder mystery set in a fantasy world, with the characters trying desperately to find out why their uncles died, and why everyone is trying to kill them. Specially who and why.

The world building is exquisite. There is a sense of history and the turning of religion to science and the heartache this can bring to people. A city is literally torn apart and you get such a sense of the life the city once had. And really, what drives this narrative is the women. The ones who were brave enough to risk their lives to come to the Chancellor and explain. The ignored sister who leaves the safety to take a dangerous trek that has already claimed many lives. And my favourite – the scornful, intelligent, spiritual young woman who loves her mother and brother, and really isn’t afraid to talk bluntly to the chancellor and his advisors.

The other main characters are Tain (the chancellor) and his proofer, Jovan, who has been raised to know all poisons by taste, touch, smell. It’s the job his uncle had before him, and it’s what has taken both the previous chancellor and Jovan’s uncle right at the start of the book, and their murders that they’re hurrying to solve. Jovan’s job should have actually been that of his older sister – Kalina – however thanks to her chronic condition she simply wasn’t strong enough for the job. She makes herself useful in other ways, but the fact Jovan spends every waking moment trying to keep Tain alive, and having it distracted for thinking he also has to be the carer of his sister – who is stronger than he realises – is another driving factor of the book. And as someone with chronic illnesses I couldn’t adore Kalina more, and what she achieves.

I’m writing this review at 75% because I hear that the ending is going to ruin me and want to grab Hawke’s leg, and refuse to let go, allowing myself to be dragged around as I wail and beg to know what happens next. I figured I should write this now while I can still feign coherently.

This book is excellent in its representation of other cultures, same sex relationships, living with chronic disease, living with compulsions, and throughout we see the characters learning from their mistakes and prejudices, accepting same sex couples as literally nothing to remark upon, and supporting and working with people with chronic illnesses or compulsions as if they’re something to work alongside of. One has the compulsion to do everything evenly, and when they’re in a state their closest friends simply ensure they rub both shoulders evenly, as to help calm them rather than set them off even more. It’s really, really lovely to see.

City of Lies is the debut start to what promises to be an excellent series, by Australian Sam Hawke. I also met her briefly at Worldcon Helsinki and she seems incredibly lovely. Go buy this book! I’m going to go and read the final 25% and cry.


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