I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.City of Lies by Sam Hawke
Series: Poison Wars #1
Published by Bantam Press on 23rd August 2018
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.
A Wee Summary
The Bright City of Silasta has seen peace for hundreds of years. It’s from here the Chancellor and his Council (compiled of representatives from the six Credolan Families, and the six Guilds) rule the country.
Jovan and Kalina are brother and sister, their Uncle Egan, or their ‘Tasha’, is Chancellor Caslav’s closest advisor. What many people don’t know though is that he’s also the Chancellor’s proofer – it’s his role to prevent the Chancellor from poisoning. It’s a family duty, with each generation producing a proofer with exceptional knowledge of poisons, antidotes, and a developed tolerance to poison, to protect Caslav and his familial successors.
Kalina had been destined to fufil the role of Proofer for Tain, Chancellor Caslav’s heir. However, her body is weakened by illness and not suitable for proofing. Consequently it’s Jovan who has trained to perform the secret role for his best friend Tain.
Tain and Jovan find themselves needing to step up from their ‘heir’ positions sooner than anticipated. Together with Kalina, they find themselves in a city under siege, and not entirely sure who exactly the enemy is that faces them.
There’s a lot to like about City of Lies – action, intrigue, politics, mystery, poison, but what I loved the most about it were the characters, Jovan and Kalina, from whose perspectives the story is told, and Tain too.
While I was captivated by the story with its lies, betrayals, twists and mysteries, it was the siblings who made this story for me.
Why? I’ll attempt to explain.
Jovan has a need for order and experiences compulsions which grow in proportion to his anxiety – measured, balanced pacing, fingers tightening in sequence, counting. It was something that I could relate to, and fantastic to see it being woven into a story without being the story.
If I could relate to Jovan, then Kalina’s character was like a revelation. A character who is constantly fatigued, in pain and at the mercy of her weak body. No-one know what causes it or how to cure it.
Many of you know that I suffer from a chronic illness that greatly impacts my life, with some symptoms very similar to Kalina’s. I also have a similar attitude to Kalina, where I constantly hide how bad I am from those around me. So you can imagine how much I loved to see such a character on the page – a character whose health was central to her story but wasn’t the story!
I highlighted many passages while reading but this one stood out to me
they couldn’t see what was wrong so they assumed it was not real
Kaline represents so many people with invisible illnesses, and Hawke writes her so well. It’s refreshing to find characters that I can relate to in this way, but whose personal struggles aren’t the story of the book. It feels representative of real life – a world which keeps on turning and you need to make the best of what you’ve got.
It’s also so reassuring to find a character who still gets to contribute so much to a story without their health issues.
I could talk about this aspect of the book ALL DAY, but I’m sure you get my point. All of this, within an epic fantasy tale!
I really enjoyed this story, overall. I had a few issues getting my head around some of the layouts of the City and the action scenes – but I’m sure that was down to my foggy brain.
All in all, this is a very impressive debut that ticked so many boxes for me. I’ve barely touched on the actual plot, but let me assure you, it will keep you reading long into the night!