City of Lies by Sam Hawke
Publication date: 23 August 2018
Page count: 560 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I want to be transparent that I am friendly with Sam, but this didn’t impact my rating of the book and, as always, this is an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
City of Lies had been languishing on my TBR since its release last year. Despite hearing amazing things about this book, I just never seemed to have the time to read it. I finally decided to pick up the audiobook with a spare Audible credit and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner! Part political fantasy, part closed-room mystery, City of Lies is a gorgeous tale of family, betrayal, and war.
Only a handful of people in Silasta know Jovan’s real purpose in life. To most, he is just another son of the ruling class. The quiet, forgettable friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible heir. In reality, Jovan has been trained for most of his life to detect, concoct and withstand poisons in order to protect the ruling family.
His sister Kalina is too frail to share in their secret family duty. While other women of the city hold positions of power and responsibility, her path is full of secrets and lies – some hidden even from her own brother.
Up until now, peace has reigned in Silasta for hundreds of years. But when the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army storms the gates, the so-called Bright City is completely unprepared. It falls to Jovan and Kalina to protect the heir and save their homeland – but first they must make their way through a new world of unexpected treachery – a world where the ancient spirits are rising . . . and angry.
You all know I love world building, and the world of City of Lies is absolutely fascinating. It is lush and gorgeous in its detail, but you never feel overloaded with information — Hawke manages to tell you everything you need to know in such a way that flows well with the plot and story. I adored the lush and gorgeous world that Hawke creates — I would happily read anything set here. I’m always a bit sucker for interesting fantasy cultural practices and traditions, and City of Lies gave me that with the wonderfully intricate ‘lost lore’ trope and non-standard (by our society, anyway) family structure. Because of this, the nuanced family relationships at the heart of City of Lies is absolutely wonderful.
Frustrations and tensions keep the story alive, but it’s the characters that really made me love this book. This one is for the Hufflepuffs out there who, like me, don’t see themselves in sword-wielding, badass characters that are so common in fantasy. Both Jovan and Kalina are soft, caring characters thrown into a terrible situation. However, they do not cower from their responsibilities — they rise to the occasion and become heroes in their own ways. Not only is their sibling relationship absolutely wonderful to read about, they both stand firm as amazing characters in their own right. Jovan’s character arc was absolutely wonderful and I really loved reading his chapters. Characters who suffer from mental illness are always a soft spot of mine, and I was really happy to see that OCD was being sensitively written about and presented in fantasy.
As much as I like Jovan, Kalina was my absolute favourite character. I will always have a soft spot for female characters who are more than they appear, twist people’s expectations of them to their own benefit, and have an incredible inner strength. Kalina suffers from a chronic illness — her condition means that her place as the next proofer was taken from her and given to Jovan — however, she doesn’t give up. She uses people’s perceptions of her as a frail and meek woman in order to provide the help that she can — she has many secrets of her own. She’s exactly the kind of female character I love reading about and in undoubtedly a new favourite of mine.
City of Lies is a fantastic debut that feels like it is written by a veteran of the genre. If you’re looking for something unique and refreshing in fantasy, you should absolutely pick up this book. I’d highly recommend the audiobook, as both narrators are just fantastic and capture Jovan and Kalina so perfectly. I can’t want to see what Sam Hawke writes next!
Want to read City of Lies for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):