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The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell (The Legacy of Mercenary Kings #1)

Author: Nick Martell
Release date: 16th February 2020 (US), 18th February 2020 (UK)
Publisher:  Gallery/Saga Press (US), Gollancz (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Political, Crime, Thriller, Mystery
Goodreads: Here 

Michael was branded a traitor and his family exiled from courtly life after his father, David Kingman, murdered the king’s nine-year-old son.

Now he survives by conning, cheating and duelling minor royals in a weak attempt to strike back at the world that abandoned him and his family, sure all the while that his father must be innocent . . . and aware that some powerful secret lurks in the hot white emptiness of his mind.

So when the opportunity arrives to return to court, via the most dangerous of the King’s royal council, Michael takes it, hoping for clues to unlock his hidden past. Instead, he’s going to find a royal family spiralling into a self-serving dictatorship, as beyond the walls gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

But if he can find his way to the truth, he could completely reverse the injustices which rule the Hollows . . . if Michael and his family can survive long enough to see it . . .


Have you ever requested a review copy of a book just because you fell in love with the cover? Only to then find out it’s actually the second in a series? Then finding yourself just filled with a sense of obligation to see how it all started?

This was what happened to me with Nick Martell’s The Legacy of Mercenary Kings series. I briefly heard about it when this book first debuted in May, but I never found the time to really pick it up. Not until Gollancz revealed the cover of the second book The Two-Faced Queen. That was when I knew, it was time for me to just hurry up and pick up this series.

Overview

Okay, so the only thing I can tell you to start you off is that we begin with the trial of Michael Kingman, alleged King Killer. Ironically enough, just ten years prior, his father was also tried for killing the king’s eldest son and was summarily executed.

You’d think that after all that trouble Michael would try his best to avoid being involved in another regicide, but by some unfortunate series of mysterious events (and questionable decisions), he’s involved in yet another one and this time he’s accused of killing the king himself. How things took such a turn is the story in this book.

Review

The Kingdom of Liars offers quite an interesting take on the staple medieval-inspired fantasy worlds. For starters, we know next to nothing about the world outside Hollow (which in contrast is enriched with much historical and socio-economic contexts) but there are several implications sprinkled here and there that there is much more to explore beyond it after the events of this book. For all we know beyond that, is that over Hollow’s skies lingers a shattered moon, Celona, that once every while breaks off leaving pieces to fall down to the grounds. The pieces are said to be mystical and is of incredibly high value.

What truly intrigued me, however, is the magic system—dubbed Fabrications—and the introduction of guns in Hollow. Fabrications come in many forms, mostly based on elemental magic such as fire fabrications, lightning fabrications, metal fabrications, and darkness fabrications. While versatile, however, extensive overuse of Fabrications carries the risk of cause memory loss (and some applications directly mess with memories, to add to the paranoia factor). I appreciated that despite its potential (and relatively non-fatal price), using it is still a decision to make carefully which emphasizes the value of memories. I’ve taken from other reviews that Martell’s decision to include guns in his worldbuilding was quite a controversial one, but I’m firmly in the happy camp with this choice. While it isn’t typical for medieval-inspired fantasies to include guns, it is bound to exist given the ever-evolving innovations humanity has; and damn, do I like what the questions and implications it offers to use of Fabrications. On one hand, Fabrications reach domains not particularly accessible to human hands (e.g. memories, instantaneous conjuring of required elements) and can prove fatal to those on the wrong side of its users, but on the other hand the invention of guns that can kill even Fabricators with little trouble without risking its user’s own memories implies that other alternatives to Fabrications may blossom sometime in the near future (e.g. steelwork, electricity, heat generators). The fear and extreme crackdown on guns in Hollow present a question that I noticed has begun to be explored in more and more fantasy works recently: has magic begun to become obsolete? Will science eventually overpower magic, or will the two be able to co-exist with each other?

Intriguing world-building aside, however, I have to say that Michael Kingman irritated me to no end. A selfish, short-sighted young man with delusions of grandeur, he constantly focuses on the wrong things and makes his decisions accordingly it was truly a wonder I saw him through this book alive. In spite of this, though, I enjoyed the tremendous character growth that happens in The Kingdom of Liars. As a Kingman, Michael is inevitably involved in the centre of Hollow’s tumultuous history and Martell blasts one revelations after another in the book’s second half to connect all the pieces together. These revelations provide insight to Michael’s character, which made me more empathetic towards him; and this integrates seamlessly with his development. The way everything clicked together to make a strong narrative was immensely satisfying.

Concluding Thoughts

The Kingdom of Liars can be a trying book with its incredibly flawed protagonist, but Martell’s strong storytelling more than makes up for it. This book perfectly sets the tone and the themes that would encompass The Legacy of Mercenary Kings series, and I am excited to hop on this journey. It is an enthralling book that rewards its readers for sticking through the whole ride, and promises a lot more to come in its sequels. The Kingdom of Liars is a solid debut offering a story of costly magic, betrayal, murder, and ultimately the worth of a legacy — especially in a world where memories are fleeting and not always trustworthy.

Note (09/12/2020): I have been lucky read the second book of this series (The Two-Faced Queen) courtesy of Gollancz and Orion Publishing Group. I am excited to post its review in early 2021!

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