Title: City of Lies
Series: Poison Wars #1
Author(s): Sam Hawke
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: July 3rd 2018
Genre(s): Fantasy, Mystery
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Who said big and chunky epic fantasy novels weren’t appetizing? Debut author Sam Hawke rushes to the table to prove their worth by serving us a delicious tale stuffed with poison, political treachery and ancient spirits. This dish however doesn’t come on the usual silver platter. What we find ourselves in front is a fantasy story grounded in mystery. As rare as they are, Sam Hawke showcases her outstanding storytelling talent and presents us a debut novel that is both visually-arresting and succulently-crammed with intrigue. All you have to do is let her clear-cut and meticulous writing style do all the talking.
In City of Lies, readers are thrown into the complex city of Silasta and follow the adventures of both Jovan and his sister Kalina. Friends to the Chancellor’s heir, their skill set amounts to the art of proofing, which essentially consists of testing food for poisons. With their mastery of these substances and chemicals obtained through a ruthless training during their childhood, they have sworn to protect the Chancellor’s family from all attempts of assassination. It is upon an unexpected incident within the family that all hell broke loose, but finding out that the city is being besieged by an army is when they stop believing in coincidences and start driving head first into a wall of lies and corruption. The mystery that hence follows Jovan and Kaline urges them to desperately haunt for answers in order to protect the Heir and the city of Silasta from being overthrown.
A fantasy story spiked with mystery is one of the most compelling and intriguing mix in literature. City of Lies embraces it with warmth and deadly desire, and delivers it within a political web of deception and class warfare. The mere societal structure developed by Sam Hawke in the city of Silasta is brilliant and helps give life to the city itself. Told in first person, with an alternative POV between both characters, readers find themselves slowly expanding their understanding of the intricacies of the city’s functioning, but also their understanding of the lies on which it is all built. How Sam Hawke progressively reveals bits and pieces of the answers to all the questions readers have is brilliant, but her ability to create even more doubt and dump more questions on her readers is even more outstanding.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sam Hawke’s attention to poison is engrossing. Kicking off each chapter with a lesson on a particular poison in order to break it down to a concise and comprehensive look at them (description, symptoms and proofing cues), she ultimately makes a specialist out of all her readers. It’s pretty amazing to see how much of a threat any and all consumables can be, especially with Jovan and Kalina’s proofing skills that highlight the treacherous world in which the high-ranked folks live in. While the world-building and the mystery plot are both amazing, I found myself less mesmerized by the characters, even if they had some great moments. My inability to truly distinguish them from one another is my biggest complaint, but Jovan’s point of view makes up for it plenty.
City of Lies turned out to be a dazzling debut novel from an author who definitely has a voice of her own. What she brings to the table is not the typical poison you’d find on your shelves, but an original, powerful and mystery-filled poison that will seduce you into wanting more.
Thank you Raincoast Books and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!