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Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Kingdom Of Liars by Nick Martell (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve)

Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Nick Martell was born in Guelph, Ontario, where he lived for 7 years before moving to Huntington, New York. Nick started writing in 5th grade, beginning to explore the world that would fully emerge in The Kingdom of Liars.

Nick attended Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a minor in French. Since then, Nick has done a wide range of jobs that had nothing to do with his major in university from a Quality Insurance Tester for an engineering company in New York City to a volunteer on an organic farm in Ireland.

The Kingdom of Liars is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

FORMAT/INFO: The Kingdom of Liars was published in hardcover in the UK on May 5th, 2020 via Gollancz. It will be published in hardcover in the US on June 23rd, 2020 by Saga Press. It is 608 pages spread over fifty three chapters, with a prologue and epilogue. It is told in first person through Michael Kingman. It will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ten years ago, Michael Kingman's father was executed for murdering the Crown Prince. Since then, Michael has grappled with dueling legacies: that of the Kingman ancestral duty to be protectors and advisors to the royal family, and that of the ruined family name that comes with being the son of a traitor. He has searched for years for answers as to what happened that fateful night without success. But when he comes to work for High Noble Domet, the man becomes a surprising ally in Michael's quest for the truth. With Domet's help, Michael joins the Endless Waltz, the annual nobility courtship events, where he hopes to gain access to information kept secret by the royal family. As he delves deeper into court politics, it becomes clear that there are gaps in his memory from the time of the attack, and entire people he no longer remembers knowing. But if his father wasn't responsible for the death of the prince, who was?

The Kingdom of Liars is a novel that has an incredibly intriguing setup that I ultimately just didn't connect with. Let's start with the good parts. There were many aspects of the worldbuilding I enjoyed, including the idea of a magic system where overusing your abilities could cause you to lose your memories. This meant magic users have to take precautions to keep memories safe, from journals to tattoos. The shattered moon that occasionally rains debris onto the city was also something I'd never seen before, and I loved the concept of the Endless Waltz, a series of events the nobility attend to arrange marriages and form political alliances.

After the broad strokes of worldbuilding, however, I found myself lost in the minutia of details that were left vague or unexplained. To name a few:
- How exactly (in normal times) did the Kingman family operate in their role as intermediaries between commoners and the royal family?
- What exactly is a person who is a Sacrifice?
- How on earth did a character who was a commoner when the book began suddenly show up as part of the Crown Prince's inner circle?

Some of these questions are answered late in the book, and it was at the point that things started being explained that I finally found myself enjoying the intrigue at hand. The night of a fateful ball in particular was an outstanding scene, full of tension and confrontation, but also providing understanding of some key concepts that had been eluding me up to that point.

I also found myself struggling to connect with the characters. Most of them felt only roughly sketched out. Some of this stems from the fact that, for an unknown reason, Michael can't recall certain details of his childhood, including specific faces of friends he knew for years. But even the close friends he had in present day felt more like acquaintances than people Michael would put his life on the line for.

As for Michael himself, he's purposely written as brash and impulsive, which can sometimes make him a bit hard to read. But he also does carry an enormous burden. Since childhood, he's had the weight of being literally branded a traitor, reviled by everyone for his father's actions. At the same time, there's the weight of the ancestral family name - Michael comes from a long line of legends, of men and women who don't live history, they cause it. He wants to uphold this legacy, not out of any sense of nobility, but because it's what he was raised to do. It's hard not to feel some sympathy with a character who is hated for something he had no control over, who is also under pressure to live up to the names of heroes.

The Kingdom of Liars was a book I unfortunately wanted to love much more than I ended up doing. Although it has some original concepts, it just didn't deliver as wholly realized a world as I hoped. I will say that the last third of the book went much better for me than the beginning, as reveals and twists finally brought things to a head, especially as Michael uncovers what is buried in his missing memories. There were scenes where I could definitely see why this book has resonated with others (again, the scene at the ball is my favorite of the book), but overall, it fell just short of making me want to continue onward.


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